Sunday, January 30, 2011

JANUARY 29, 2011

January 29, 2011
Loveland, Colorado

Along the banks,
logs and stones in shades of pewter
differentiated only by texture.
River water, temporarily free,
cascading over concrete impediment.
Subtle gold in dormant grass and slanted sunlight.
The pleasure of breathing air chilled by melting snow.
It is, I know, mere recess.
Soon enough, the regulation season will resume.
But, sheltered from the returning wind
my cheek blossoms in delicate sunshine,
well pleased.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

a thank you note

It’s January 27. I watered my trees today.

I moved to Colorado from Chicago. Watering trees in late January is not something that we did. The end of January through the end of February was, as I recall, the coldest time of the year. We would not have seen any natural occurring plant life – or even a dead lawn -- for months. Snow would have accumulated around everything in the city ... and around our spirits.

Here, the sun shines ninety percent of the time. In Chicago’s winters, I would have settled for nine percent of the time. In fact, I think I did.

Oh, I know. Colorado gets most of its snow in March … when Chicago is beginning to thaw out around the edges. But March snow does not last as long a January snow – it has something to do with the length of the days. And Spring for pete’s sake.

Yesterday someone at my bank cautioned me. “Don’t tell people what it’s like. Everyone will move out here.”

So I won’t. Not many people read this blog. It won’t do any real harm to express appreciation for a few warm days in the middle of winter. I didn’t mind compensating my trees for the lack of snow. It felt wonderful to be outside hauling the hose around.

In fact, consider this a thank you note – to Colorado.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Reading Lines

It has occurred to me that front-page photographs of long lines of people are rare but important.

Recently, there were photos of Sudanese people voting on whether or not to separate the south from the north of that east African nation. Before that, I remember the lines of South Africans voting in the presidential election that brought former prisoner Nelson Mandela to office. And in the late '80s, there were photos of lines of voters in what was then Czechoslovakia. On each of those occasions, the act of voting was seen as an enormous privilege, the harbinger or confirmation of huge changes in the lives of the people standing in those lines. None of those elections guaranteed 'happy ever after' but each of them was a milestone in the history of our species.

More recently, and infinitely sadder, we saw the long lines of people waiting to attend the memorial service for the Tucson shooting victims.

And, in contrast, every year we see the lines of shoppers on 'Black Friday'.

Waiting in line often shows a degree of civility, of mutual respect, and appreciation for a common goal. In other parts of the world, the lines have historic significance. Sometimes, in our country, it's just waiting to buy more stuff.

This is just an observation. I'm not sure I have a conclusion. Do you?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It's Over

Today is the Day After Martin Luther King Day. I'm exhausted. The local celebration required monthly meetings beginning in September, several thousand (or hundred) emails trying to coordinate program elements, visits to the studio providing the dances, visits to stores to put up flyers, picking up programs, folding programs, etc. etc.

Then, last night, arriving early, discovering the things that still needed to be done, recruiting last-minute volunteers, and folding more programs.

All of a sudden it was 6:45. Both the dancers and the singer/piano player had done their run-throughs. The doors to the auditorium opened, the prelude slide show started. Local officials lined up back stage. Then, at 7, the school superintendent welcomed the crowd. The mayor, the city manager, and a local artist spoke, placing Dr. King's legacy into their perspectives. Then a great dance by a young corps and a great song by a young composer.

Then me. Originally, I thought I'd be part of the invocation, speaking alongside local officials. But I didn't really belong in that group. I'm just a retired woman, writing stuff in her upstairs study. Still, I thought something was missing from the program. I thought the kids in the audience (winners of the art and essay contests run by local schools) needed to be reminded of something important.

Great men and women don't start out either grown up or great. Like everyone else, they start out as kids. 

Martin Luther King Jr.'s life changed when he was six years old. Just before school was to start, he rang his best friend's doorbell. He want to play but his friend's father said his son couldn't play with Martin any more. Why? Because Martin was black and his friend was white.

Until that moment, Martin had not realized the huge separation between blacks and whites. In the city where he grew up, black people couldn't sit at the lunch counters with whites, or drink out of the same water fountains. And black children could not go to school -- or play -- with white children.

Martin's who life was dedicated to ending that separation. He helped change the world. His dedication began one moment when he was six years old.

There are still many things that need changing. I have two questions for the kids here tonight: When will your moment be? What will you do to change the world?

The evening went on. Awards were given for the winners of the essay and art contests. Another great dance number and the requisite 'thank-you's'. People stayed around afterward, enjoying refreshments and learning about local non-profit organizations. They were still there when I left, a little after 8:30.

It had turned out to be a great evening. Most people were unaware of the glitches. And, I hope, the kids and grownups alike remembered some of the many things Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us: things can be changed through non-violent means and any of us can change the world we live in.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Truly Vintage

I had to look for it, but I found the blog I posted on June 27. It was a rambling commentary on a New York Times article about a 5,500-year-old shoe found in an Armenian cave.

Earlier this week, that same cave was in the news again.

It turns out that that Armenian cave is a perfect time capsule in which prehistoric artifacts have been preserved under layers of sheep dung and a white crust on the cave's limestone walls. Not terribly enticing, except for the fact that these un-glamorous coverings have conserved items that provide a window into life thousands of years before Ipods.

This time archeologists found a complete winemaking operation, estimated to be 6,100 years old. It includes a vat for fermenting, a press, storage jars, a clay bowl and a drinking cup made from an animal horn. They also found grape seeds, dried pressed grapes, stems, shriveled grapevines and residue which, when analyzed, indicates that the early peoples were producing red wine (which I prefer).

The wine press is shallow -- a thick-rimmed 3 by 3 1/2 foot clay basin where people stomped grapes. The basin is positioned so juice would tip into a 2-foot-deep vat.

The elaborate facility would have been used only once a year, when grapes were harvested. Wine must have been important (even then). Some theorize that it was used for ritual purposes, drunk to honor or appease the dead or even sprinkled on graves.

The huge cave with several chambers also contained jars filled with dried fruit -- grapes, prunes, apricots -- and nuts -- walnuts and almonds. In another area, the people had some kind of metallurgical operation where copper was smelted.

These were my kind of people: enjoying red wine, dried apricots and almonds, perhaps wearing some copper jewelry. Actually, they were our kind of people ... not the hulking, grunting primitives we have long thought so inferior. Instead, nice people, and probably excellent hosts.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Joy is a stick with feathers

Joy is a black plastic wand with bright green feathers on one end. Currently, this particular cat toy is somewhere in my bed.

On this snowy Sunday, I had nothing I really needed to do other than go to church and to watch Masterpiece Theater. It was a perfect day to catch up on household chores, including changing my sheets and doing laundry.

My cat Guinness loves nothing more than helping me change the sheets on my bed. There are layers and layers of delight. First, the old must be removed. That requires pulling off the quilt, the comforter, the top sheet and the bottom sheet. Each layer becomes a hiding place, a surface from which a cat toy can tantalize before he pounces. When he is at the top of his game, he pounces and somersaults. [He is the most somersaulting cat I have ever met.] Then, when the bedclothes are gathered into pillowcases, Guinness waits at the top of the stairs for me to toss them to the lower landing. [I have no idea why he likes this process. I would have thought it to be slightly threatening.] We descend, proceeding to the laundry room for the boring part. But his excitement mounts as I remove clean linens from the closet and climb up the stairs to the second floor, led by a speeding cat.

Sheet changing is so much more fun than just bed making. It's the feline equivalent of a double feature ... or a double whammy. First, he is covered by the bottom sheet (sometimes I have to lift up an escape route if he stays until it is all tucked in). Then, by the top sheet, then the comforter. Here we pause for him to chase the cat toy (or toys). Finally, the quilt soars over the enterprise, and the cat. Replacing the pillows with their fresh cases signals the end of the game.

The bed looks fairly respectable -- with only one layer slightly askew. It's only as I smooth the surface that I notice that one toy, the black plastic want with bright green feathers on one end, is missing.

Ah well, it is somewhere in the bedclothes. I'm sure we'll find it later, after Masterpiece Theater, when we 'retire' for the night.

Cats can teach you a lot about joy.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


It’s all put away now. Every bauble, bangle and bead. Every sparkling ornament. The tree and its skirt. The wreaths and their holders. The last of it was packed yesterday, under the intense supervision of my two cats.

Their eyes never wavered but they never interfered. Well, at the last, when I was wrapping the iridescent beads in tissue paper, Guinness could stand it no longer. He leapt onto the strand but abandoned the chase as I placed the package into the storage box.

I did have to wait until they tucked themselves onto the TV room couch before taking the red feather trees from the mantle. One cannot ask creatures to violate the laws of their own species.

The first year I had a tree and cats, the cats knocked the tree over twice. Thereafter, I wired successive trees to the wall and sprayed the plastic branches with a harmless but effective deterrent.

But the cats seem to have matured and/or aged. Sprayed but unwired, the tree remained unscathed through the entire 2010 holiday season.

One ornament bit the dust – a silly bear made out of musk ox hair that I bought when on assignment in Anchorage, Alaska. Guinness may have knocked it off or it may have fallen on its own. But when I found it on the floor the second time, I left it there. Fair game for either feline or gravity.

So with nothing broken, nothing even damaged, I must acknowledge the great forbearance of both Herbie and Guinness, great and greatly self-disciplined cats.
Thanks, guys.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Ninth Day of Christmas

If I have counted correctly, today is the ninth day of Christmas -- if you happen to follow the tradition that there are 12 days of Christmas, culminating in Epiphany (which is, I guess, the 5th of January, which will be Wednesday of next week).

This year I seem to be celebrating every single day, ending (perhaps) this evening when I will have dinner with my genius nephew.

Google is amazing. (You knew that.) Not being a genius, I used it to look up “The Twelve Days of Christmas” -- to find out what was given by ‘my true love’ on the ninth day. It turns out that the gift could have been one of two things – either nine ladies dancing or nine drummers drumming. (The order of the last four gifts may vary depending on where on this planet people are singing.)

Google also states that the most authoritative version is published in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, as follows:
     The twelfth day of Christmas, | My true love sent to me | Twelve lords a-leaping, | Eleven ladies dancing, |     Ten pipers piping, | Nine drummers drumming, | Eight maids a-milking, | Seven swans a-swimming, | Six geese a-laying, | Five gold rings, | Four colly birds, | Three French hens, | Two turtle doves, and | A partridge in a pear tree.

Look at it. Do you know what “colly” birds are? They are not a Brooklyn-accent version of calling. Google says colly is another name for a blackbird. And, according to Google, the fifth day's gift of gold rings refers not to jewelry but to ring-necked birds such as the ring-necked pheasant. OR the original phrase might have been “five goldspinks" - a goldspink being an old name for a Goldfinch.

Who knew?

Whatever version of the old song you prefer, today is the ninth day of Christmas and tomorrow I return (along with many others) to my ‘real world’ full of routines and obligations.

I don’t think I have the stamina to celebrate all twelve days – with or without the gifts. I am (this time) grateful for Monday and for routine (except for putting away all the decorations which are still up so my nephew can see them). And I am also grateful for the marathon of celebrations, giving me focused time with terrific people.

Actually, this part of the celebration does not have to end. What if, whenever we were with other people, we gave them our focused attention – really listened to what they said and tried to understand the circumstances of their lives at that particular moment? How cool. I’m willing to bet it would make it a happier new year for a lot of us.

Speaking of which, I wish for one and all, a splendid 2011 – all 363 days remaining.