Sunday, January 25, 2015

My Lucky Day

My Lucky Day

September 2006

          I don’t know what made me stop at My Lucky Day. Oh, maybe I was looking for a fake flower, a feather or a fancy hatband for my gray felt hat. Or it could have been the Imp of the Mischievous enticing me to spend money on things I don’t really need but can’t pass up as a real bargain, like a slightly dented copper drinking cup, or a piece of Japanese indigo cloth, or a candle camp lantern.
Standing outside the resale shop, examining the offerings on the Super Bargain table, I pick up the camp lantern. It still has the stump of a white candle with a curlicue black wick inside a glass cylinder protected by a tarnished brass holder. 
The man next to me starts talking out loud. I glance sideways, but he’s not speaking to a cell phone. Maybe he’s trying to talk himself into buying the tiny portable black and white television he’s cradling in one large hand. He picks up another item, a little recorder, the old kind that uses tiny tapes.
          “This is a really great deal, only $25,” he exclaims, “and look, it even comes with an earphone and batteries.”
          When he says “look” he thrusts the recorder in my direction and I realize he’s addressing me. So I do look, not at the recorder, but at the man who’s holding it out as if he expects me to take it. Tall, well-built, with short graying hair, he’s the kind who’s done physical labor all his life. Probably played football in high school and joined the military after graduating. We turn to face each other, me holding my miniature lantern, he holding his miniature TV and miniature recorder.
          “Are you selling or buying?” I ask.
          “Oh, I’ve already got one like this. Had it for 25 years. Still works fine.”
          He’s wearing a white T-shirt with a faded American flag and “I love America” emblazoned over his heart, a rose tattoo on his left bicep and a bald eagle clutching arrows on his right bicep. I’m wearing a white T-shirt with a hand-painted Ganesh and “India” sitting on my left breast, silver hoop earrings, no tattoos.
          “So are you trying to get me to buy it? I’ve got one just like it too.” Actually, it belongs to my husband, who's also had it for at least 25 years.
          “No, no,” he protests, shaking his head slowly from side to side. “I’m just looking.”
         Just looking, for what? Right now, he’s looking at me.
As he talks, the acrid odor of cigarette smoke sways in the air, passing from his lungs to his mouth and then across the small space separating us into my nostrils and lungs. I want to step back, but don’t want to be rude, not like the smokers who impose their second-hand smoke on everyone around them.
          Is he just being friendly or is he making a pass at me (unlikely as that seems)? Maybe he just needs someone to listen to him. I’m good at listening. Complete strangers somehow detect that. It’s as if I go around wearing a sign on my forehead: “Talk, I’ll listen.”
          So he does. And I do.
          He tells me he likes to buy broken electronic gadgets and fix them, but he always ends up with a huge pile of things that need fixing.
          “You sound just like my husband. Are you an electrician?” After I blurt this out, I realize it sounds like I’m making a point of letting him know that I’m married.
          His face doesn’t change with this bit of news. “I worked for John Deere but I’m retired. People I’m living with, they told me I’ve got too much stuff. Need to get a storage unit.”
          “Oh, my husband’s the same way. He’s got several storage units, all stuffed to the rafters.”
          He gazes off over my left shoulder for a long moment. “My wife left me six years ago.”
Uh oh, now we’re getting personal. It always amazes me how quickly total strangers will spill their heartaches.
“And my only son moved to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to go to college,” he adds wistfully.
          “You’re kidding! My youngest son is taking classes at a college in Coeur d’Alene.” How odd, that we would have that in common.
          He squares his shoulders like a soldier at attention and says proudly, “Well, tell your son, if he ever meets a guy with the last name of Luke, that’s my son.”
          “Do you ever get out there to see your son?”
          “It’s such a long ways, I don’t get to see him very often.” He sets down the TV and fiddles with the buttons on the little recorder.
          I'm immediately sorry I asked. He probably doesn't have a much money for travel. “I know just what you mean,” I say cheerfully. “I’ve only been out once to see my son.” I don’t mention that my son comes home for holidays.
          Suddenly, his whole story spills out, like a tape recorder on fast forward. “See, me and my family stopped here on our way from Atlanta. Couldn’t afford to go on, so we stayed here for a year.”
Where were they going and why on earth did they stop in a small town in Iowa?
Suddenly I remember a trip I took years ago with my friend Carolyn in a VW van with our combined eight children, all under the age of 10. We traveled from Kansas two thousand miles to the Northwest. Carolyn wanted to visit a friend in Oregon and my sons were going to visit their father in Washington State. The van was new and Carolyn was vainly attempting to keep it clean. She made the kids take off their Keds when they got in, lining them up just inside the sliding door. Every time the door slid open, 16 little shoes fell out and we had to count them to make sure they were all there. On the way back, we ran out of money right before the mountain pass into Wyoming. Neither of us had a credit card. A nice lady lets us stay in a one-room cabin overnight, the little ones crowded into two beds with us, the older ones on the floor. We had just enough gas to make it over the pass. The next day, at Cody, Wyoming, Carolyn waltzed into a bank and came out with a hundred dollars. Her father worked for a bank, she said, and she knew the ropes. But I think she used her Southern charm to sweet-talk some stranger into handing over cold cash.
The man at the Super Bargain table is still rambling on when my attention returns to the present.
“I’m on Social Security and full disability pension from the military, but it’s not enough to support a family."
Ah, so maybe that's why the wife left.
"I was in the first Desert Storm, running the supply vehicles. Got a brain stroke from the heat.”
Or maybe that's why she left. Brain stroke sounds like some kind of mental impairment, although the guy seems coherent enough.
          What I say is, “Wow, my stepson was in that war and he’s also on full disability. He was a paratrooper instructor. Ruptured a disk jumping out of airplanes.”
          The man barely seems to listen to my side of the conversation. He’s like a polished ax cutting through a woodpile of resentments.
          “They never should have gone over there this time,” he says, pounding the little recorder on the table until I’m afraid he’s going to break it.
          Oh, oh, now we’re getting into the landmine zone of politics. But then he takes me by surprise.
          “I don’t know what you think about the present Bush,” he says, lowering his voice, “but he can’t hold a candle to his dad.”
          I nod but keep my eyes on the candle stub in my camp lantern. He looks every inch a far-right redneck, could he really be putting down our current president?
“Why, the man can’t even talk right!” he exclaims, shaking the recorder in his fist.
          I laugh, amazed and relieved to find us standing on the same side of the fence, or at least in the same pasture. I venture, “It’s embarrassing to have him as our president.”
          “You got that right!”
          He sputters on awhile longer, but I can tell his battery is running low. I’m getting a little impatient to get away, but I keep nodding and smiling. There must be a reason this man singled me out, and it wasn’t a pick up or a political diatribe or, thank heavens, a religious rant.
          His loneliness wafts across the gap between us, like a fragrance that cuts through the tobacco smoke, through the preconceived ideas, straight to the heart. So different on the surface, but underneath we’re both humans, seeking some kind of connection with at least one other being. I feel a warmth growing in my chest, like the flame of a little candle in a brass lantern lighting up the darkness. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

ready-set-go -- whoosh!

ready-set-go -- whoosh!
down the packed snow hill -- and then
the slow trudge back up

So glad to see children playing with their entire bodies not just their thumbs. Sledding was a major treat for me when I was growing up. The sled styles have changed -- now they're plastic saucers and lozenges colored like M&Ms. But the thrill of speeding down a snow-packed hill is the same as it has been for centuries. And there's also something satisfying about alternating fast down, slow up -- time to build anticipation.
          My sled was a Flexible Flyer, with powder-coated red steel runners and a birch-wood bed. Unlike the goose-neck wooden toboggan, you could steer the Flexible Flyer by pushing the front bar right or left. I was still sledding every winter even after I went off to college. When my sons came along, of course they each had a Flexible Flyer, with their names marked on the bar. Got a lot of wear and tear, including broken slats, but still flew down the hill. 

They still make the Flexible Flyer the way I remember, but the price has skyrocketed. This one costs $100.

And this reproduction of an older style sells for $350! But isn't it a beauty?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

a rainbow halo

a rainbow halo 
and four sun dogs surround the sun
on a frigid morning

A sun bow with four sun dogs appeared on a very cold morning in Fairfield on 7 January. This photo was sent to me by a friend, who didn't know who took it, but many people took photos that day. Unfortunately, I did not, as I was recovering from a car accident the day before. I am told that the rainbow haloed the sun as it rose and remained most of the morning. 

The sun in the middle looks like a bright white compass with rays pointing in four directions. On the surrounding arc, two bright spots flank the sun to the north and south, while a third faint rainbow tops the arc. And high above the halo hovers a fourth rainbow! Manifesting at the beginning of the new year, it feels like an auspicious sign.

This unusual display caused a lot of people to wonder what it means. Soon, someone recalled the ancient prophecies made by our indigenous peoples about sun dogs and sun bows. The following material about the the Navajo-Hopi prophecy of the whirling rainbow is taken from an article by John Black (

"There will come a day when people of all races, colors and creeds will put aside their differences. They will come together in love, joining hands in unification, to heal the Earth and all Her children. They will move over the Earth like a great Whirling Rainbow, bringing peace, understanding and healing everywhere they go. Many creatures thought to be extinct or mythical will resurface at this time; the great trees that perished will return almost overnight. All living things will flourish, drawing sustenance from the breast of our Mother, the Earth.

"The great spiritual Teachers who walked the Earth and taught the basics of the truths of the Whirling Rainbow Prophecy will return and walk amongst us once more, sharing their power and understanding with all. We will learn how to see and hear in a sacred manner. Men and women will be equals in the way the Creator intended them to be; all children will be safe anywhere they want to go. Elders will be respected and valued for their contributions to life. Their wisdom will be sought out. The whole Human race will be called The People and there will be no more war, sickness or hunger forever."

Black points out that references to a New Era are not new, and are found in many cultures, including the Greek mythology of Chryson Genos and the Norse legend of gullaldr. And, I would add, it appears in the most ancient Vedic tradition as the return of Sat Yuga, the golden age.

So be it!

Friday, January 9, 2015

snow and freezing wind

snow and freezing wind --
a doe and fawns take turns eating 
dry corn, keeping watch

All night I keep waking to the sound of our wind turbine roaring. It sounds so much like a tornado that my heart is beating almost as fast as the blades of the turbine, spinning in 22 mph wind that whips dry snow into spiral clouds. I feel sorry for the turbine, forced to rotate far faster than is good for it. A switch trips the generator so it doesn't overload, but anyway, without battery backup, we aren't getting any benefit from the wind, which sent temperatures plummeting below to -9 F (-23 C) with a windchill factor of -20 F (-29 C).

Yesterday I refilled the bird feeders with black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts, and left a ground feeder full of dry corn for the deer and squirrels. This afternoon a doe and her twin fawns step out of the woods, across the open snowy lawn, straight to the corn, as if they've been here before. The doe eats first.

When she lifts her head to scan for danger, one of the fawns takes a turn.

But the doe doesn't let the fawn eat for long. First she paws at the back of the fawn with one hoof. When it doesn't move off, she mounts it to push it away. I have never seen a doe use this method of discipline, but I suppose she's really hungry.

After the corn is gone, they all go on the alert. First one fawn, then the other, moves off, and finally the doe follows back into the woods, where there is more shelter from the wind.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

frozen in blue swirls

frozen in blue swirls
the creek mirrors bare trees above
dead leaves below

The turning of the year brings longer but colder days, cold-snapping the creek water into fantastic swirls.

Pilgrim Creek may be frozen on top, white ice rimming the banks, slate blue ice midstream, but underneath, the water still wanders on like a sojourner taking one step forward, one steps sideways, one step forward, one step the other way, but always onward.

Raccoon tracks left in the mud along the bank after it was carved into waves by the latest flood waters.

A patch of white ice looks like a swimming polar bear.

An illusory mountain appears to be reflected in the crackled ice.

This ice pattern looks like an Aboriginal bark painting.

Nature, the consummate abstract artist.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

on this year's dying day

on this year's dying day
a yearling doe laid down in the woods
on three legs to die

I'm scanning the trail closely, uneven with frozen muddy tracks strewn with trip sticks. Easy to turn an ankle. Everywhere, an earthy palette of browns and grays. Suddenly, a patch of white. I squat to examine what looks like a mesh of white plastic fibers. But when I touch them, I realize it's deer fur.

Looking up I finally see, just an arm's length away, a dead deer, a small yearling doe. She's lying on her side, her neck curled around a small bush, three legs stretched out as if she's running. But she's missing her right hind leg, the bare hip bone protrudes from her fur.

          Fur everywhere. Some animal has been at work on the hind end of the corpse. Hard to know the cause of death. Perhaps she got hit by a car on the nearby highway and managed to hobble into the woods to die. Or maybe this small one got hamstrung and brought down by coyotes.
          The words of an old Shapenote song come to me: "And am I born to die, to lay my body down." Certainly birth is a death sentence. But life is a rare opportunity to experience this material world, in all its messiness and glory. Then when it's time, the body wants to go back to the earth from where it came, while the spirit, well, the spirit doesn't go anywhere. It's where it's always been and always will be, just no longer attached to the physical body.
          This little one didn't live long in the world, but she must have learned a lot, enough to move on. So I leave her flesh to be consumed by wild animals until only her bones are left to lie among the decaying leaves and fallen trees. Then I too move on down the trail.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

ICONic desserts

ICONic desserts
in the study, coats upstairs,
art in every room

I almost had to beg Bill Teeple, my art teacher and director of ICON gallery, to let me donate something for the annual art auction. He graciously explained that he doesn't like to ask his students, but I wanted to make a contribution to keep the gallery financially afloat. Since I'm not among the many professional artists in the show, we were both pleased that three of my four pieces sold, a small gouache painting and two Peruvian photographs. I guess that makes me, what, semi-professional?
          As a result, I've been invited for the first time to the traditional thank-you dinner for donors. My husband and I arrive at 7:20, a time I feel is reasonably on time and fashionably a little late. However, when we pull up to the house, lit up with a big ICON auction sign by the front walk, no cars are parked on the street. Inside, no one in sight, except a dour lady in a painting on the hall wall. 
          "Hello?" I call.
          A short lady wearing an apron and a page boy haircut bustles out from the back of the house and gestures toward the narrow black staircase. 
          "Randy's upstairs changing."
          "Are we early?" I ask, knowing the answer.
          "Well, it's supposed to start at 7:30," she replies, then hastens to add, "but everyone will be glad that you're here first."
          I'm staring at the neatly lettered signs with arrows directing guests: ICONic desserts (right), Food (left), Coats and Lavatory (up).
          A slender man with a long face topped by short grey hair bounds down the stairs and stops in surprise.
          After introducing ourselves, I explain that we thought the dinner started at 7:00.
          "No problem. Put your coats upstairs, then come have a drink in the kitchen." 

          At the top of the stairs, more signs point to two bedrooms for coats. Everything is so scrupulously neat, it looks like a Bed and Breakfast. In the bedroom to the right, John opens the closet. Empty. Not even any hangers. So we put our coats on the bed. I'm looking at the art work on every wall, each piece neatly labeled with the name of the art piece and the artist, all Iowa artists. 

          Our host is waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs when we come down.
          "Are you an artist?" I ask. 
          "No, I just collect art."
          We're still the only guests, so he escorts us to the kitchen along the hallway, lined with small pencil drawings in large black frames.
          "Ah, I see you collect Bill Teeple."
          "Yes, that's six of the nine."
          More artwork on all the walls of the kitchen, as well as the counters. On one counter, buckets of bottled drinks, each labeled, but Randy rattles off the contents: spring water, fizzy juice, beer, wine. On another counter, stainless steel urns for coffee, decaf coffee and hot water, labeled of course. There's also a can of cocoa with instructions for how to make hot chocolate. And two tiny exquisite paintings of a pear and a cluster of rose hips.
          I choose a bottle of pomegranate juice, pour it into a clear plastic cup and wander off to explore the rest of the house. In the dining room, two 18th century paintings of what I assume are family portraits stare across the dining table at one large abstract collage. A floor lamp in one corner wears a red scarf around its neck.

          I feel like I'm in an art gallery rather than a home. The walls in every room in the vintage clapboard are painted with rich colors, contrasting with the cream colored woodwork. An antique wooden desk in the study holds a large Chinese porcelain platter. In the corner of the living room, an antique Chinese screen. Even the front window looks like abstract art, the white lines of Venetian blinds hovering over the blurred lights in the darkness outside.

          Every table in every room holds either a plate of cookies and chocolates or cheese and crackers arranged like a still life: a large wedge of Camembert, a square of Blue cheese, a roll of cheddar studded with bits of pecan, thin crackers, a bunch of white grapes, a jar of fig jam with a paper cover and a silver knife and spoon. 
          Seeing me eye the cheese in the small parlor, Randy says, "Try this. Put a bit of Blue on a sesame cracker and top it with a dab of fig jam. Delicious!"
          Finally, other guests begin arriving, so I stop taking photographs. When Bill arrives I follow him into the kitchen, where he takes up a station in a chair in front of the kitchen sink. It's an odd place to sit, since the lady in the apron and a woman from the restaurant are busy setting up for the catered dinner. 
          "Randy is quite an art collector," I comment.
          "Yes, that's a piece by a well-known Washington artist in the dining room. His mother owned a horse farm in Virginia. When she passed on he sold the farm.
That's where the money comes from. Then he moved to Fairfield."

          "Thank goodness there are people like that who support local artists."
          Bill tells me that my photographs went to two local people, but my painting was purchased by a couple in Wisconsin, one of whom is an art collector. Bill took photos of all the artwork in the show with him when he went to visit them in November, and out of a couple of hundred pieces, they chose mine. I'm flattered. When it comes to art, you never know what's going to appeal to people. 
          After a while, it's clear that we're in the way of the food servers, who are trying to get silverware out of a drawer and use the sink. Dinner is ready, so we move into the dining room to serve ourselves from the warming trays: curried chicken, curried tofu, steamed vegetables, rice and beans. Then I look for a place to sit and eat. People are sitting and standing to eat everywhere. Finally I find a large chair in the living room.
          A tall girl with cafe au lait skin and long matted brown locks sits down next to me. She's wearing a low cut sleeveless top which reveals graceful spiral tattoos embracing her neck and a pink lotus floating between her breasts, the green stem disappearing down the cleft. I wonder where it ends up. Maybe it emerges from her navel, or perhaps the root chakra.
          But instead of voicing that question, I ask, "Are you an artist?"
          "No, I'm here as a guest of an artist."
          "Well, you're a walking piece of art," I reply. 
          "Yes, I like to wear my art."
          With or without clothes . . . .
          Her artist friend arrives, a short man with a round face dressed all in black. As he sits down next to the lotus girl, his eyes travel to that cleft and pause a moment before he turns his attention to his plate of food.
          The house is teeming with people now, chatting in little groups in every room and hallway. I hardly know anyone. I recognize my photography teacher and her husband, our neighbor across the road whose handmade book graces the mantle, and an artist who has her own little gallery. I'm not good at small talk, so I wander around people-watching, an art show in motion.
          In the kitchen a big man dressed like an old hippie in loose layers, lots of beads and one thin gray braid hanging over his shoulder is talking animatedly to a young girl in skin-tight purple jeans who sports a ring with a turquoise stone almost as long as her finger. She's wearing a long sleeve black bolero jacket over a green tank top. When she moves her arm to sip her drink, a small crescent of bare skin shows between the jacket and the tank top. The man flicks his eyes to the exposure and talks faster.
          In the parlor a man wearing a vest, a 19th century frock coat and a tweed driver's cap is talking with a woman in a hand-painted chiffon dress who owns another art gallery. She's getting ready to close up shop. So many artists but not enough buyers in this small town.
          In the study the apron lady brings out a silver tray piled high with chocolate eclairs and cream puffs, which she deposits on the desk like a tray of gold bars and coins. A large man sits behind the desk, like a broker presiding over the distribution of commodities. I take one of each and retire to the hallway.
          While I'm nibbling on my treats, a man breaks away from another group and comes directly up to me.
          "Do you remember me?" he asks. "We used to work together many years ago."
          "Yes, of course I remember." I also remember that he was a programmer and is married to one of the artists.
          "What was it you did at that company?" he asks
          "Whatever they asked me to do," I reply vaguely. "I worked at so many different jobs over the years . . . ."
          "Well, do you remember what you told me once about Contra dancing? We came a few times and I was having trouble with the dance patterns, so I made a computer program to show the moves. And you said, 'You're missing the point. You have to get out of your head and into your body.' I never forgot that and I've told that story many times over the years."
          "Oh dear, I'm embarrassed," I said. "It is important to understand the pattern, especially if you have a sharp intellect, and then learn the steps with your body."
          "Still, what you said back then made a big impression on me."
          "Why don't you and your wife give Contra dancing another try? We have a dance the first Saturday of every month, and we do English country dancing every Friday except the first Friday."
          I'm ready to leave, so I go looking for our host to say goodbye. Apron Lady is quick to notice that I need something. 
          "He's out there," she says, pointing through the kitchen window to the deck.
          Randy is standing with a small group of men. All of them are smoking.
          "Oh, I wouldn't want to bother him," I say.
          But she taps on the window. Randy looks around and comes to the back door. When he opens it, he puts his lighted cigarette in his pocket.
          It takes me a few seconds to realize that it must be an electric cigarette.
          "You're leaving? Thanks for helping out ICON. I've seen you around town, but didn't know who you were, so now I'm glad to know you."
          Though we've barely spoken, it's true that now we know each other's face. And wouldn't you know, the next evening when we go to the Chamber Singer's concert, Randy is sitting in the row behind us. When he sees that I see him, he waves.