Friday, January 30, 2015

two horses side by side

two horses side by side
in the shelter of an old oak
tails to the cold wind

The miniature black horse still inhabits the little pasture, but the population of other four-leggeds has changed once more. All summer and fall, he shared the pasture with two American Standards, a pinto pony and a donkey. When they arrived, I was so happy for him after being alone all winter. But the big horses seemed to ignore him -- or was he ignoring them? I couldn't tell. The donkey sometimes tried to play with him, but he didn't rise up on his little hind legs and spar back. At the beginning of winter, I feared he would be left completely alone again. Since horses are herd animals, it seemed to me that aloof company would be better than no company.

So when I didn't see the two big horses anymore, I scanned the pasture. No donkey. Ah, but there's the pinto pony! Cocoa Bean and Pinto Bean, I call them. At first they didn't seem to graze very close to each other, but gradually, they drew closer and closer.

Then one cold, windy January day, I find them standing side by side, in the shelter of the long corrugated limbs of an old oak, tails to the wind. Happiness is a friend in bad weather.

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.