Reflections on Independence – on America

Yesterday evening I watched a baseball game and, afterward, fireworks.  It was a moving experience, standing in a stadium on a warm western evening, watching and listening to the celebration of our nation’s independence.  I cried.  It was hard to think of what I might write, here.  Democracy always hangs in the balance.  It is not a state of being – we have to work for it every day.  This realization takes me back to an experience I had last summer, in Washington D.C.  I wrote about witnessing the Declaration of Independence.  Upon rereading my reflection, it seems even more powerfully relevant today.  Retirement tip #11 – Do not take freedom for granted.  Pay attention.  Be kind.  Stay involved.  Use your voice – young people need the wisdom of their elders.  Go see the Declaration of Independence if you can – it’s the best read in the universe.  Vote.

I stood inches from the Declaration of Independence, in proximity to tangible evidence of this nation’s identity.  I started to cry.  As a teacher, I have read about and taught students about the Declaration of Independence.  That Sunday morning, it became unexpectedly real for me.  Fragile parchment spread with faded, gracefully executed script.  Signatures penned by the very hands of men who conspired to create a new nation.

The Rotunda of our National Archives was filled with whispering patient visitors.  We waited, in a group of perhaps 40, at the foot of wide stairs, and then advanced into a round room.  Such beautiful stairs, landings, walls – marble and polished granite everywhere.  Gleaming iron-spiked barriers, gracefully determined to protect this sanctuary.  A banner hung in swag, tacked to the center of the domed ceiling, a time-line tracing the evolution of amendments to our Constitution.  Gilded cases in circumference, held documents written more than 200 years ago.  I imagined the warm palms of Colonel Timothy Matlack, Thomas Jefferson’s secretary, scribing the words.  I imagined serious men gathered, searching for the best words to express their frustration, their beliefs and determination, electrifying yet still, hot, humid air on that day in 1776.  The Rotunda, where I stood, was cool, dim, vibrating with measured voices, every pair of eyes fixed on words beneath glass.  It was not hot or humid or turbulent with the excitement and trepidation that first gave the words life.  It was pure awe.  It was like being in church.

The passage of time whittles away, in increments, at these documents and their meaning.  Air and light subtly degrade and disintegrate the paper upon which our promise of freedom is written.  Those who take responsibility for preserving this heritage have given great thought to the particulars of doing so.  It is not a photograph of these documents in a book that the people desire – it’s the real deal.  Crisp and delicate paper traced with faded ink; the spirit of each man who touched that paper.  That is what we line up to see.  I am so grateful that these treasures have been preserved and made accessible.

In the context of unfolding events this July, I recognize that more consequential than the potential of time’s chemical decomposition, these documents face intellectual weathering and a dream of independence that has not yet been fully realized.  The proper tone and spirit urged by Thomas Jefferson must be continually kept in our sights.  The truths understood by our founding fathers seem self-evident, but not to all people – not in all circumstances.  The unalienable rights to which we feel so firmly attached cannot be taken for granted.  We must hold tightly to the belief that governments derive power from the consent of the governed, every citizen, and that people have a right to reject power that does not seem likely to bring about or preserve their safety and happiness.

As I reflect on my visit to the National Archives, the connection that I experienced to my own birthright, I find myself weary with concern.  Troubling words that reflect conflicting values and political ideologies creep, like rising water, into our tomorrows, my tomorrows, and yours.  I hear liberty and independence parroted, but I am not sure that I really hear of care for the protection of the rights of our people.  We have heard hollow tone and misplaced spirit before; we have ferociously defended against what Dwight Eisenhower called demagogic extremists.  We seem to be charging at windmills with self-serving arrogance, resentment and anger, greed, and righteous indignation aimed at reviving that which we have already determined is not right.

Being that close to our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence changed my sense of who I am.  Those became words that belonged to me as a citizen and I cried at the very thought of being in the same room with them.  I will not forget what it feels like to be inches away from the evidence preserved for me by our National Archives – that all men are created equal and that we all deserve to be treated with this level of respect, despite our differences.  In order to form a more perfect union we must embrace our lack of perfection and dedicate ourselves to lifting one another toward our highest aspirations.  When I listen to those who appear to elevate themselves at the expense of others, I will remember what it feels like to stand in the Rotunda of the National Archives, seeing the signatures of men who believed in one another and took a risk, trusted one another, to declare that we deserve to be free of bigotry and oppression.


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Take My Hand: Chapter 2 – The First Night

This is a working draft of a novel that I am writing.  I appreciate any feedback you might offer.  Please know that this draft is changeable.  I post after several rewrites, hoping that the posting will spur the forward progress of writing.  No part of this may be reproduced or shared in any way except to share the website access information.  Thanks for reading.  I will post new chapters as they evolve.

A stubborn gathering of Pinon Pines stood watch on a distant ridge, like shaggy chess pieces, each occupying its square of rocky earth.  I watched the afternoon sun move alongside the car.  It was already hot in April, baking southern Colorado lowlands while distant shiny meringue peaks hung on to their snow.  I had put over 1,000 miles between me and my faithful old Paddy, my house, my job.  And away from Conner, who was surely still coping with his own confusion and regrets.  I was driving at 70 miles per hour away from my life.

Like the feeling that had forced a dawn pit-stop in Flagstaff 10 hours ago, my body’s need for food was dull but persistent.  It annoyed me.   After Mar and Mattie’s funeral people brought food to the house.  I have never understood that practice.  Seeing piles of food on our dining room table had caused me to run for the bathroom, nauseated, though I had nothing whatsoever in my body to expel.  I have no coherent memories of anything in those hours or days.  My beloved daughters, no longer alive.  Conner and I were out that evening, about to be served our anniversary dinner, when we got the news.  He told me later that my left hand had violently tipped a basket of fragrant Sourdough that had just been placed before me and my right hand had dropped a glass of wine cleanly, like a plumb line straight down onto the floor.  I had no recollection of this.  The next memory that I have been able to dredge up is the sight of our dining room table at home, casseroles and platters of pickles, cookies and punch.  The funeral was over.  This was the last leg of a journey that would soon end for everyone else.  A journey that I knew would never end, for me.  Even now, I think, how could anybody eat?

How is it that I could find myself driving to Colorado to face the same thing; to face the end of Gran’s life, a funeral, the table filled with casseroles?  It was only the thought of my sister’s commitment that helped me hold my course.  Eventually my hunger became undeniable.  I gave in, drove into a roadside Carl’s Jr., not stopping the car to get out, but winding through to a marquee featuring pictures of burger combo meals surrounded by fat red lettering.  A shake sounded good.  French fries sounded easy; I got the large size, which turned out to be rather smallish.  The shake was good, though.  Vanilla malt.   I drove on, watching the waning sun guild the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.  I had been on the road for 19 hours when I approached Colorado Springs.  I remembered to look for the Nevada Avenue exit, but there was nothing about it that seemed familiar.  I had not been back to Mountain House in more than 30 years.

Growing darkness engulfed the Audi as I turned into a finger-like extension of a larger canyon, along a rough-surfaced asphalt road that finally ran up to a gravel driveway.  The property is in an old established neighborhood buried at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain.  Most of the surrounding places were what one might call estates.  My grandmother’s house, in which she had spent her entire adult life and I the early years of my childhood, was modest in comparison.  The forest was its fence.  There was no grand gate or entrance.  Its two stories were dormered, the bulk of the house rambling, rustic, almost shabby.  It had taken on a ramshackle, overgrown look, evidencing years of neglect. The outline of the house was blurred.  Canyon walls muted the late afternoon light.  In California, days in the middle of April were already stretching toward summer.  Each would be longer, lighter, warming the ground, pulling up green.  On the Front Range, everything still looked dead; crisp and colorless.  Patches of dirty snow lingered in places where the sun did not penetrate.  Night fell hard in the crevices of the mountain.

I fought the urge to turn around.  Likely the evening on the Coast was lovely, I thought with an ever present pang of longing for home.  An image of Bougainvillea came to me.  Over the railing of my neighbor’s balcony, vines spilled fountains of magenta almost any time of the year.  I never tire of that humble splendor; warm, earth colored tile, creamy stucco, and tropical foliage.  Santa Barbara, I thought, as a hint of tears stung my eyes, is like a painting by Gauguin – Tahitian landscapes spangled with bold bright colors and cocoa colored people.  Each spring I would take the girls on a drive up the slopes of Figueroa Mountain to luxuriate in the ocean of sweeping color moving in waves across hills and arroyos.  Lupines and Poppies grow wild there, a veritable feast of slender stems and warm Saffron petals, bending in the breeze.  I am a painter, by avocation; color and texture are my first language.

Mountain House did not look forbidding to me, but it looked rather desolate.  It did not help that it was dressed, sides and rooftop, in weathered cedar.  The trim had once been painted a sharp Navy.  Now, washed-out gray shingles blended with faded blue window frames and limp sagging gutters.  Only the light in the front windows looked alive.  Darkness shuttered the canyon so that the glow from within the house seemed stronger.  The light leaped bravely from two great picture windows overlooking a plank front porch that ran the length of the house.  I spied movement inside.  I stilled the Audi’s motor, pulled the emergency brake.  In the middle of the porch, centered over three long stairs, a solid wooden door flung itself wide.  For a minute, it seemed as if the house had opened itself, unassisted.  My sister emerged then.  Framed by the front door.  Her shoulders shrugged against the sharp edge of mountain air, but her face beamed.  She waved wildly, from the wrist, keeping her elbows close to hug her torso.

I gave the horn a short toot in reply.  When I unbuckled and opened the car door I was surprised by the cold.  I felt my mouth curve into a smile.  Elizabeth.  Lizzy.  My sister’s tiny frame was erect and solid for all its delicacy.  A warm welcoming smile shaped her rosebud mouth.  Her face was calm, framed by tidy flaxen hair, bobbed like mine.  She looked as lovely as ever, shivering beneath a gauzy shawl.  I felt how different we were. “Mutt and Jeff,” is the way Dad had always described us.  My copper cut is thick, almost ginger, while Lizzy carries a perpetual smooth smile, inscrutable gray-blue eyes beneath a halo of blond.  We are well proportioned, each to our own self.  Lizzy is small.  I am tall.  She is Dad, a female version.  Her strength does not come from her height or frame; it comes from her heart.  I am Mom.  And Gran.

Heaving an enormous sigh, I gathered my emotional strength, along with a bulky Pea Coat rumpled on the passenger seat, and emerged from the car.  Lizzy crossed the yard quickly.  In one movement she became part of me, head fitted into the hollow below my shoulder.  We did not speak.  As quickly as I could, I maneuvered her loose, pointing to the rear of the Audi.  I leaned into the driver’s side to pop the trunk open and then shut the car door.  We each grabbed a suitcase to take back to the house.  I left the trunk open.  There were several pieces of luggage to retrieve.  Once safely through the wide front door, I spoke.  “Hello Lizzy.  It’s so good to see you.  You look terrific!”  My voice carried through to the kitchen.

“Evie, is that you?”  Gran’s voice projected around a corner.  She sounded strong.

“Yes, Gran.  Let me go out for the other suitcases.  I won’t be a minute.  Once I’m in I won’t want to go out again, I just know it.”  I forced myself back into the night and returned with two oversized plaid bags, dumping them at the foot of the stairs with the others.

In the kitchen, a large-boned elderly woman sat in a wheeled chair pushed up to a plank trestle table.  She was smothered in lap quilts.  Her slippered feet were propped on metal footrests.  Her smile was like mine, teeth showing, eyes wide.  It was like looking in the mirror.  I found it hard to believe that Gran was as sick as Elizabeth had made her out to be.  I hung my coat on a chair back and leaned over her, hugging from behind.  Moody feelings rose from deep within me.  I recognized so much of myself in this woman, the sound of my voice came low and vibrating, like guitar strings gently strummed.  “Oh, Gran, I can’t believe I’m really here.”  I rocked her gently, eyes closed, drawing in the soapy scent of the old lady.

When I opened my eyes, I was shocked to see thin milky skin shrunken against the bones of my grandmother’s hand.  It was almost transparent.  In that moment I became aware that the weight of my embrace might be crushing the old woman.  The texture of her body and hair melted into something insubstantial.  She sounded like Gran, the Colorado legend of her youth, but she had changed. I suddenly understood her very real fragility.  I had not seen her for more than two decades.  The last trip Gran had made to California, she had been as spunky and physically strident as ever.  I stumbled through memories, captured in the nostalgic times that one cherishes.  I had a few pictures of Brigit Paxton, sent with Christmas Cards over the years.  They were mostly pictures of groups, small against the overwhelming backdrop of mountain peaks or rocky scarps.  The woman had seemed as unchanging as the mountains themselves.

I lived with Gran and my father at Mountain House as a child.  My mother left us when I was a toddler.  She took my sister to live with a rancher in the hot northern California country somewhere east of Yreka; it was a long way from anywhere, off the grid.  The separation was less a shock to me than to Lizzy, I guess because I was so young.  Letters from my big sister used to arrive regularly, through the first several years.  Dad read them to me.  Even a young child could hear the pain in my sister’s words.  I never saw my mother again.

For a long time, Dad and I stayed with Gran, but eventually my father must have felt he had to move on.  We camped a lot, temporary homes.  We wound up on the Pacific coast, living on a boat that my father restored.  On land and sea I was a Gypsy with him, mostly home-schooled, brilliant if you would believe him, and driven to settle.  When the time came for me to make my way in the world of adults, Dad put in harbor at Santa Barbara so that I could attend the university there.  Even before my anticipated graduation, Dad was planning his next migration.  I knew I could not bring myself to leave.  I was determined to stay in Santa Barbara.  I waited tables on the pier in the harbor, applied to graduate school to earn a Master’s in fine arts, painted boats in the harbor, Channel sunsets, Spanish tiled rooftops, and craftsman bungalows.

The summer before my final year I caught the attention of one of my art history professors.  He was no Humbert, even though he is 12 years my senior, and I was no under-age Lolita, but in some similar mystical way, he could not resist me.  I, being a motherless child, could not resist that.  The courtship was secretive.  Such things can be scandalous.  The romance exhilarating, perhaps because of this.  An intellectual to the core, Conner Paxton also dabbled in sculpture and painting.  The artist in me savored the artist in him.  We shared aged Cabernet while I modeled for him, draped in silk and tulle, my long, lean, nude body made into a still-life on a ratty velvet fainting couch in his Eastside studio.  He modeled for me, too, and I rendered him like a Roman God.  We made love after office hours on the desktop in his windowless university office that had no lock on the door.  This seemingly quiet and serious man captured the adventurous soul in me.  He was so unexpected.  He was a leader who beckoned me to follow, and so I did.

When it came time for me to accept a teaching job in Los Angeles, he could not let me go.  We got married on the beach near the university, our music the mournful chiming of Stork Tower, heedless of tar patches and the pungent salty scent of the estuary.  He owned a house on California Street, at the foot of the famous Santa Barbara Rivera.  It was a glorious place, an idyllic space for a pair of bohemians – one bedroom for sleeping and two that we transformed into studio spaces.  A loft above the carriage house became the perfect professor’s office, with one round window at the front and skylights that opened to welcome sea breezes.  I found a teaching job locally and took to the life as if born to it.  Conner and I quickly settled from furtive desktop sex to Sunday morning breakfasts on the patio, rubbing bare toes under the table.  I felt my restlessness lie down and thought I wanted for nothing more but my Gypsy spirit pestered me.  I turned the prospect of becoming a mother into my answer.  With a child, I thought, I would feel truly completed.  When it was revealed that my adventurous soul blessed me with twins I rejoiced.  Here was living proof of my uniqueness.  My twin girls, my first grade students, and my art wholly absorbed me.  Conner continued his placid contented pace and so became like a lovely picture frame, just the right tone and weight, to anchor the portrait of my own wild life.  He was there, all around me, but not in the painting.  I counted on him being there but was seldom really with him.  He seemed to accept this.  I don’t think I even realized it.  I was fully absorbed.

When the girls drowned, their lives ending without warning, without reason, my life seemed to end as well.  Then Lizzy called to ask for help.  I could scarcely recall what Gran looked like let alone feel close to the woman.  I had given only occasional thought to Brigit Adams.  This person, the only real mother I had ever known, had slipped into a parallel universe; a story book figure that cut live Christmas trees every year, spent summers riding a mule into steep terrain, for fun, and wouldn’t recognize the sound of the ocean curling onto Pacific sand but could hum the songs of the wind soughing through Ponderosa Pines.  I conceded now, almost involuntarily, that I hardly knew this woman who I so resembled.

Lizzy put Gran to bed rather early.  I was exhausted, truly ready for sleep.  I gathered my luggage.  As we shuffled the big bags along, Lizzy’s hushed whispers revealed the gravity of Gran’s situation.  She was matter of fact about the details.  Congestive heart failure.  Only a matter of time.  Making her as comfortable as possible.  So important to have family around now.  It troubled me to think about it.  It troubled me to think about anything to do with death.  I longed for the confidences to end.  I longed for sleep because this was the only time I truly found peace anymore.  It occurred to me, as we began to lug the suitcases up the stairs, that we might have installed me in the bedroom next to Gran’s.  Instead we were bound for a small room tucked into attic space where I had slept as a child.  I kept my voice low.  “I don’t want to sleep in the dormer.”

“Oh, Darling, I’m all set up in the downstairs room.  I can hear Gran from that room so much better.”  When Donny comes to stay the weekend, we need the big bed.  The third bedroom is set up as a day-room, a parlor of sorts.  She can’t stay in her room all day.  The living room is crammed with couches and big chairs.  We cleared out the other bedroom to make a pleasant space, east-facing windows for morning sun.  Not much to bump into.  All of the things she needs are right there.”  My sister’s face was placid.  “You can have my room after I leave.”  She continued her dogged climb until she reached the landing at the top.  I followed her and stopped short of the door to the dormer room, dismayed at the prospect of sleeping in a narrow trundle bed, but she pushed the short door open, crossed the room, and thumped the bags onto a low window seat.  Two faded velvet cushions were displaced by the luggage and fell to the floor.  I bent to retrieve one of them and held it to my heart.  No dust.  No old smell.  Just soft worn velvet, once the color of eggplant, trimmed in piping of the same material.  Behind the window seat, double hung glass panes sank deeply into the angles of the ceiling, dull with darkness.  Lilac patterned chintz curtains hung motionless on either side, like a mat framing a picture.  Lizzy hugged me and then left without further comment.

I slowly surveyed the room.  I am not given to fear of dark corners, but this room felt unsettling.  The walls were not straight.  The space was hemmed in by creases of darkness.  I remembered having that same feeling as a young girl.  It took one zip of the smaller suitcase to find flannel PJ tops and bottoms, printed with Scotty dogs.  Conner thinks I like things decorated with Scotties because of Paddy.  I like the softness of the flannel, and the pink color, even the cute black pups, but I would rather he had chosen sapphire blue satin, or pale pink sheer polyester.  He doesn’t really know about these things.  It doesn’t matter, I thought.  When I go to bed most evenings he is rarely there to see me.  He prefers to stay up later; coming to bed after I am asleep.  I have come to believe that this way there is little chance that he will need to do more than pat me on the arm before settling into regular breathing and slumber.  I shook off the feeling of aloneness.  Such a change from the days of scandalous love.  Even before the girls were lost to us, romance seemed to have evaporated.  Now, I am lost to him.  My professor is lost to me and I am here, lost to him, I thought.  And Gran needs me.  No sense in brooding over things I cannot change.

I pulled my jeans and sweater off, hastily donned the printed flannel top, and then tucked the drawstring bottoms under my pillow.  I folded back a stack of several quilts and slid into bed, bottomless.  The mattress was narrow and firm.  My skin came alive against cold, crisp, cotton sheets.  My legs separated like scissors, luxuriating in the evenly distributed weight of the quilts.  It seemed to take no time at all to realize warmth.  My cocoon was perfect.  I missed my dog, but was grateful for the absence of Paddy’s heavy head, the way he shoved up against my legs, restricting movement.  Sleep came quickly.

I was woken by a shard of light passing slowly across my face.  A strikingly bright moon had risen.  It penetrated the room.  I squinted and then moved my face into shadow so that I could more easily see in the darkness.  It seemed that everything around me was better illuminated in the moonlight than if the bedside lamp were on.  The entire room was glowing.

My throat felt parched and so I pulled my legs out from under the covers and swung them over the side of the bed.  Water.  I ought to have brought some upstairs.  Now it seemed imperative to fetch a glass.    I kept my eyes on the window.  I was struck by the ethereal beauty of ink-black branches silhouetted against a milky sky.  Conner would love this image, I thought.  There was a time when I know he would have wanted to paint this.  As my feet reached for the floorboards, my heart lurched.  I realized that I was not touching the floor, but some other thing.  I quickly pulled myself back into bed and searched the dim space below.  Butterflies flooded my vision.  It took me a minute to understand.  These were part of a pattern, evenly distributed over negative space, large stylized butterflies.  Gingerly, I reached with one finger to touch the surface.  It was a quilt.  I thought that one of the quilts from my bed had slipped off onto the floor.  When I tugged at it, trying to pull it back up, I realized my mistake.  The blanket was tightly tucked around a long low mattress.  A pillow lay at one end.  A doll that I immediately recognized, with long curly red-brown hair, was pushed into the pillow.  It had a tiny dolly quilt covering its small body.  I crawled to the end of the bed, climbed over a low brass rail, and then found the light switch and flipped it on.  Amazing!  Next to my bed was a trundle, on wheels.  With a one-footed shove, I pushed it back under my bed.  I fished my PJ pants out from under my pillow, slid into them, and quietly descended the stairs.

As I tip-toed past Gran’s room I heard a clock from somewhere within.  A glass of water was easy to find and fetch back to my room.  I shut the short door behind me and padded softly across the floor, only to find the trundle once again exposed, ready for a little sleeper.  I am a practical person.  The slanted floor was obviously to blame.  I again stowed the trundle underneath the bed and then pulled the largest of my suitcases to the floor, propping the trundle in place.  “It won’t go anywhere tonight,” I thought, and determined to put rubber cups under the wheels in the morning.  I picked up the velvet purple pillows, plumped them into the space where they had been on the window seat, and returned to bed.

It was harder, now, to go to sleep.  I thought about the trundle.  The doll.  I fought to keep thoughts of Mar and Mattie away.  No good.  My mind considered how convenient it would have been to have such a trundle for her girls to sleep over at Gran’s.  Mattie would never go for the low bed.  Mattie would insist on the high up bed, like Lizzy always had when she had slept here, and Marie would take the lower berth gracefully.  Mar was always the graceful giver.  Mattie took charge.  I wondered, for the thousandth time, if Mattie had begged to go with her cousin’s friends to Henry’s Beach that night.  She must have decided to go.  If Mattie had not wanted to go along, no amount of cajoling from the teenagers could have moved her out of her house. Mar would have asked a parent first, if she had wanted to go.  Actually, she wouldn’t have had to ask.  She would have known it was the wrong thing to do.  It must have been Mattie who had dared, sneaking out after bedtime to listen to the older girls talking, eyes shining at the thought of being taken along with them and her cousin, Abby.  What an adventure!  So like Mattie.  But not one of them had a car.  There had been no practical way to pick up June, the sitter, and the twins.   I thought, again, that if I ever discovered the teen who had agreed to take them Grunion hunting that night, I would strangle him.  It must have been a boy. Only a boy would be so casual.  Borrowing a car that belonged to his father, no doubt.  Not willing to fess up, ever, because he shouldn’t have had the car in the first place.  Out on a lark with Abby’s friends.  Bonfire on the beach.  Silver Grunion jumping everywhere.  Abby said that she didn’t remember who drove.  She couldn’t tell anyone what had happened.  It hardly mattered.  By the time she realized that the girls were missing it was already too late.

I convulsed with sobbing, just thinking about it.  It never stopped happening but it didn’t last as long that night.  I was worn out.  I pictured my girls in the morgue, faces swollen with salt water.  I could see them arranged, so lifelike, in matching coffins.  I simply couldn’t erase the images and it stretched me thin.  I lay on my pillow, exhausted.  I kept looking at shapes and spaces in the room, suddenly feeling my childhood all around me.  My eyes stared at the captivating image of the moon, taking up the whole of the window pane.  Something seemed to move beneath the velvet cushions on the window seat.  In spite of luggage stacked on the area, the hinges of the window seat seemed to make a small noise.  The luggage did not move.  The cushions did not move.  The wooden seat did not lift, but a vague image of it seemed to move through the cushions and everything stacked on top of it.  I stopped breathing.  A child in a pale blue dress with a white pinafore materialized, sitting on the floor in the center of the room.  She rose to her feet and climbed into the dark space that was the cabinet beneath the window seat.  Her hair and eyes reflected moonlight.  She stood up, inside the cabinet, and gazed into the depths of the space below her.  And then, as she began to lower herself into that space, she vanished.

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Take My Hand: Chapter 1 – Leaving

This is a working draft of a novel that I am writing.  I appreciate any feedback you might offer.  Please know that this draft is changeable.  I post after several rewrites, hoping that the posting will spur the forward progress of writing.  No part of this may be reproduced or shared in any way except to share the website access information.  Thanks for reading.  I will post new chapters as they evolve.

NOTE: This chapter was revised on July 1, 2018 after a terrific discussion with a fellow writer.  We talked about the need to give this main character her redeeming and hopeful quality right away, before the end of the first chapter.  These qualities are apparent in later chapters, but we agreed that Dear Reader should not have to wait to have a sense of why Eve Paxton is a character to care about, as she truly is.  I so appreciate the feedback and think that the revision adds tremendous depth to her introduction.  For those of you beta readers who might only see this draft on-line, please do not be afraid to provide genuine feedback.  The work will only improve in this way and I will only improve as a writer by communicating about, reflecting on, and internalizing the truths of narrative.

Both of my hands were wrapped around the steering wheel, on the higher side.  I tapped my right index finger on the rim of it, as if in time to music.  This finger-tapping is a nervous habit.  While I seldom pass judgment on others, I do judge myself.  Too often.  You can tell when I am in that space by the finger tapping, if I’m driving.  Or maybe a foot swinging under a chair – sometimes the way I shift my bag from one shoulder to another.  Just then, I was wishing that I could be in two places at the same time, and this seemed foolish to me.  I was wishing that the road would fold in upon itself, shortening the distance, so that I could be with Elizabeth and Gran, in Colorado.  And, desperately, I was wishing to be back at home, in California, wrapped in a quilt on our blue velvet sofa, pinned by the weight of my lumpy old terrier.  I used to love to travel.  Shopping was an adventure.  Unexpected. The miles spinning under me should have been exhilarating.  I chide myself at times such as this.  How is it that I do not know my own mind?  How did I get this far in life?  I expect that I always thought I knew, thought I was sure about things and what I wanted.  Then all of that life happened.  It never seems to be what I expect – now I don’t know.  I really don’t know what I want.  Sometimes I’m not sure if I want anything.

Dark forms and deep inscrutable spaces galloped past the windows of my Audi.  I searched the darkness with what I imagined might be the eyes of Thomas Moran or Georgia O’Keefe, trying to see a painting, but there was not enough light.  I knew that under the cover of night there lay a vast and deeply hued land.  Spare.  Cutting.  I imagined myself picking up a broken pastel.  Familiar, paper-wrapped chunks of chalk in my hands making dusty marks where I my fingers pushed aside a denim shirt collar.  I thought about how I might capture darkness in the desert; imagined using a dense blue-violet to render the moonless sky, specks of white paper behind the chalk – a froth of stars swirling like jellyfish in a restless ocean.  I could not settle my mind.  I thought how much more I was like Van Gogh than O’Keefe.

Mile markers popped into view, just inside the reach of headlamps.  Again, my finger tapped absently on the wheel.  I thought that I was driving too slowly.  I admitted to myself how much I did not really want to go.  I felt shame that so much of me wanted to go.  Painted white lines reached from a vanishing point somewhere ahead, an endless mirage.  The asphalt seemed fluid.  I put more pressure on the throttle, set cruise control to 80.  I felt the road rush beneath me, as if it were a torrent of flood waters channeling between the wheels, lifting the car as it pushed eastward.  I let the Audi do the work.

Time kept up with the miles.  Fatigue set in.  I tried to pull my back up straight to change position, but still felt a persistent ache.  When my right arm buzzed vaguely from lack of circulation, I leaned off of one hip to relieve pressure somewhere inside.  I felt determination tighten the muscles in my face.  A few more hours could be endured.  Then, Unchained Melody came on the radio, slow and painfully long.  It pushed my focus from the road, back into my mind.  Words and events replayed.   My hands tightened on the steering wheel and my foot, unthinking, overrode cruise control to push the throttle nearly to the floorboard.  A sharp and searing feeling ripped through me like a gunshot.  It shocked me to my core, plunged me into icy water.  I pulled over to cry.  If I had been at home, my old Scotty would have put a pudgy black paw on my arm.  His dark canine eyes always grow troubled when I break down like this.

I let the grief grip me, twist me, wringing out a vital part of my being.  I’m not sure how long I sat on the sandy shoulder of the road until it passed.  The magnitude of this feeling is always unsustainable.  It’s too powerful.  When it has me I am utterly there.  But it cannot keep me on the edge.  I lose my balance.  I fall like a stone into a well.  I die inside from the speed of the fall.  Horror spills from my body until I am empty.  And then it’s over.

I shifted back into a more logical mode, took my bearings.  The old Audi does not have navigation.  I pulled out my phone.  California was behind me, and a forlorn tail of Nevada.  I had made good time and was half-way through Arizona.  I began to feel that I must stop.  I needed some time in the real world to get myself together.  My sister had been straightforward with her request.  Either I come to Colorado to stay with Gran, to take over the care that she had provided for months now, or the family would need to give up Mountain House to support placement in a skilled nursing facility.  My obligation at Roosevelt would not be concluded for nearly a month, but there was nothing to do for it.  Elizabeth had three small children who needed her and me, only my first grade class.  I had explained my situation to Mr. Gorman, the principal.  The children would need to finish the year with a long term substitute.  This was the right thing to do.  It was the only thing to do.

Presently, the sky grew fuzzy.  I had been driving for over eight hours.  I had filled the tank somewhere near LA, then in Baker, and had not stopped for more than a restroom break.  It was a relief when signs for Flagstaff appeared.  The gas gauge flickered, approaching empty.  Hunger nagged at me.  If I could have dispensed with that feeling without facing food I would have chosen that option, but it persisted now, like heartburn.

Neon signs on a frontage road lit my way off of Interstate 40.  The streets of Flagstaff were deserted, slick and black.  It was too early for all but insomniacs and graveyard shift workers.  The parking lot was empty, but inside Cocoa’s was filled with light.  I pulled into a spot near the front door.  There were no diners inside.  A perky waitress greeted me from across the room.  She sat with someone else, in a booth, rolling silverware in napkins.  It felt good to be out of the car.  The smell of coffee was thick.  The girl looked up at me.  Her smile was genuine.  “Sit anywhere you like!” she chirped.  I chose a booth with low backed bench seats in an aisle that separated one seating area into two.  It was right in the middle of a current of warm aroma, away from drafts.  Even the short trip from the car had been uncomfortably chilly.

The waitress brought a round-bellied pot of coffee and held it over the mug in front of me.  “Cream, please,” I requested.  At this, Darla introduced herself, glancing at packets of sugar and powdered creamer tucked into a chrome carousel.  I frowned at this wordless suggestion and then, without even looking at a menu, ordered one egg scrambled with whole wheat toast.  Darla retrieved a splashy laminated menu from the table, tucking it under her arm.

“Coming up!” she offered with a winsome smile.  “I’ll bring some Half and Half, too.”

Behind a stainless steel counter that seemed to run the length of the restaurant’s rear, a short pimple-faced youth in a slouched white chef’s hat stood at the ready. Darla straightened chairs at each small table as she made her way to him.  I tucked my hands beneath my thighs, shaking off a last shiver.  I hoped I could eat and be on my way before locals began arriving for Sunday breakfast.  I was wearing fleece sweatpants and a baggy white tee shirt.  This had been a conscious choice at the beginning of the all-night drive.  Now, a fluffy drawstring outfit felt out of place.  I reluctantly rose and headed to the restroom where I pulled jeans and a clean tee-shirt out of my tote.  It would not do to arrive at Gran’s in sweatpants.  My mood picked up a bit once I had changed.  The smooth cold denim against my skin made my body seem warmer.  The shirt was colorful.  Hawaiian, but close enough.  There were surf boards standing perpendicular to a row of curling waves etched across pale blue cotton.  It felt like home.  I returned to my table just in time to greet breakfast.

Darla brought an oval red rimmed plate and a berry dish of creamers in half-ounce plastic cups.  I appreciated how quickly my food arrived and how spare the plate looked.  No unnecessary parsley.  I piled the mound of egg onto one of the slices of toast.  As I lifted this to my mouth Darla’s partner, in the booth across the room rose, ceasing her task.  The girl couldn’t have been more than 16.  She had been half hidden behind a stack of prepared napkin rolls.  When she stood she seemed to triple in size.  A pony tail of limp ashy blond hair sprouted from behind one ear.  She seemed poised; about to take off, like an oversized Tinkerbelle but without Tink’s sparkle.  She was a coin-flip opposite of Darla, who was short, chubby, ginger-topped; a cheery bubble of humanity.  They were both responded to a group gathered at the restaurant entrance.  The family of six looked travel-weary, requiring immediate attention.  Crayons, a high chair, crackers, and a corner booth near a window that would allow the man to keep an eye on their mini-van with its overflowing luggage rack.  Behind this group another customer was waiting.  I could just see his face; weathered, capable looking, patient.  He wore a navy blue jumpsuit.

While the taller gal motioned to the family, Darla flashed a familiar smile at the singleton.  He showed himself to a table.  They knew each other.  As he approached, I could see his name embroidered in a clean white oval patch over his left breast pocket.  I remarked to myself how lucky it was that such characters always seemed to have a three letter name.  It was hard to imagine a Fernando or George embroidered legibly onto a four-inch patch.  Maybe that was a prerequisite for what Lauren Bacall called gas-pump jockeys – a name like Joe or Ray or Mel.  This man was called Gus.  My own grandfather’s name was Gustav, the son of a German immigrant.  This fellow looked like he could fit that same part.  My mother’s relatives were all German.  Not the jolly squat October-Fest stereotypes, but tall with beaky noses and close-set pale blue eyes.  It was an aristocratic look.  This guy looked like that.  One could have changed out his jumpsuit for a double-breasted long-tailed jacket sporting golden epaulettes, brass buttons, and with a jaunty monocle over one eye; he would look like a prince.

Gus steered toward a cluster of tables meant to seat two, or one.  The tables were  directly across an aisle from where I sat.  For a few minutes he remained standing, watching the family settle, surveying the accommodations that the pony-tailed hostess made for them.  He smiled when a boy who looked to be about 10 announced loudly that he could eat a tall stack of pancakes.  Gus sat down within chatting distance of me.

Once breakfast orders were taken, the boy who would shortly be confronted with a man-sized stack of pancakes began to draw furiously.  His mother cautioned him about staying on the paper.  His father glanced frequently out the window at the mini-van.  Two of his three sisters, stair stepping in height across the length of one side of their booth, bent to careful coloring.  The tallest of the girls was reading a paperback.  I smiled to think that she would choose this over fixation on a cell phone.  From where I sat I could make out the familiar blue color of the paperback’s cover.  I recognized it as an older copy of Gone with the Wind.  My mind went to the time, when I was eleven and had traveled to British Columbia with my father.  His continual pointing out of things to notice.  My persistent resistance to disengaging from that book.  Nothing holds me like a good book, and that summer Scarlett O’Hara simply would not let me go.  I was so intent on the page turning girl across the room that I did not notice her brother approaching.  His energy, spent on crayons, was more subdued as he stood next to me.  His voice was unexpectedly soft.  “Do you want to see my drawing?” he offered.  My eyes softened to match his voice.

“Show me,” I offered in turn.  To my surprise he climbed up onto the bench next to me and then placed the picture next to my plate.  “Is this you?” I asked quietly.

“No,” he began an earnest narrative.  “This is a zombie.  Zombies can look like friends but then you realize they are dangerous.  This zombie is a boy zombie.  He is going to another place with this family because he already ate all of the people’s brains where he lives.  He needs to start new zombies in another city.”  He looked at me seriously.  “Are there zombies where you come from?”

I thought about that for a minute.  “I suppose they could be anywhere if you believe in them,” I posed a possible line of inquiry.  “Do you believe in them?”

He hesitated.  “I don’t know,” he tilted his head like a puppy.  “I have a book about zombies.  And I saw a movie.  It was on TV.  Have you seen that movie?”  I shook my head to indicate that I had not.

“I have seen movies about ghosts.  I liked those movies.  Interesting.  But I do not believe in ghosts.  Do you believe in ghosts?”  He shook his head to indicate that he did not.  “So,” I continued, “perhaps zombies are like ghosts.  Perhaps they are interesting to imagine in stories but they are not real.  What do you think?”  He just looked up at me contemplatively.  “If this is the case,” I suggested gently, “then this zombie boy of yours is very interesting to me.  I am not afraid of him but I am hoping that he finds what he is looking for.  What do you think?”

“He is with his family,” the boy explained.  “He needs to go along.”

“I see,” I responded.  “What is he hoping for besides more people to make into zombies?”

“I think he wonders if zombies can swim.  You know, because they are falling apart.  I think he wants to go camping but he is not sure if he will be able to swim.  But he can fish.  He knows how to fish.”  The boy was relaxing.  I understood his concern from a first grade teacher’s point of view.

“I am Mrs. Paxton.  What is your name?” I queried.

“Daniel,” he announced.  “The third.  I’m Daniel Joseph Armstrong III, which means the third.  My father is the second.  We live in Los Angeles and we are going camping in the mountains.  My grandma lives in Colorado.”

“So does mine!” I put out there.  “So you are Daniel, and going into the fifth grade if I don’t miss my guess.”  He seemed amazed that I would know this, affirming both the grade and the fact that his new teacher was listed as a man.  His first man teacher.  “Well, Daniel,” I put on my most quizzical look.  “Maybe your zombie boy can shift shapes,” I stuck with a supernatural line of logic.  “Maybe he can pretend he is a Werewolf.  Dogs are very good swimmers, you know.”

“But they can’t dive,” he chortled.  They can dog paddle really well, but they can’t dive.”

“True enough,” I agreed laughing.  “Will you draw a picture of a swimming dog now?”  He nodded vigorously before departing to rejoin his family.  At the end of the aisle he turned to look at me and shyly wave.  His mother barely noticed him returning.  She was busy cleaning up spilt syrup resulting from her youngest daughter’s independent attempts at dressing French toast.  Daniel scooted in beside his mother to face his pancakes.  He did not look at me again but I fixed my attention on him, watching him tackle the stack.  He was brave in many ways.

Gus’s gaze followed mine.  “You look like Mrs. Packard,” he ventured when I briefly looked up.  I nodded genially in his direction.  With one scoop I captured all remaining bits of egg.  I pushed my dishes and silverware to the edge of the table to be picked up.  Darla appeared as if on cue.  She pulled it all into an expert pile on her arm while refilling my coffee.  I started to cover the mug with my hand but Darla was too quick.  Instead, I asked for a check.  I wrapped both hands around the mug to soak up its warmth before heading back out.

“She teaches Kindergarten here in Flagstaff,” Gus continued.  “Hair just like yours.  Like a cap.  Sort of brown and sort of red.  Shiny.  Smooth and shiny.”  He paused to acknowledge Darla’s ministrations.  She filled his coffee mug to the brim, but not so full that Gus might spill, and then plopped a maple syrup pitcher and bowl of butter pats in front of him.  She did not ask him what he wanted.  “Same color brown eyes, too,” he observed.  “But something’s different.  Mrs. Packard’s eyes smile from inside.  That’s why the kids love her, you know.”  He continued as if it were a two-way conversation.  “She’s got a light inside.  Like you did when you were talking to that boy.”

I turned toward him.  “I’m sorry.  Gus, is it?”  He nodded, looking pleased.  “My name is Eve.  Eve Paxton.  I’m just traveling through,” I offered.

“I know,” he returned quickly.  “You look tired.  Maybe that’s what’s different.  Your eyes and hers.  But you still have her look about you.  That teacher-look.  And I saw it when you were talking with the boy.”

I smiled in the way that I imagine old people smile when they remember something from their youth.  “I am a teacher,” I said in a low voice, almost a whisper.  “Well, I was.  I’m taking… a break.”

Gus looked into his coffee mug and then back at my face.  “It happens sometimes.”

“Are you a mechanic here locally, in Flagstaff?”

“No, Madame.”  His eyes twinkled.  “I’m the head custodian over at the elementary school.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I just saw the jumpsuit.”

He looked all at once shy.  “Mr. Stevens – that’s our principal – he likes uniforms.  He likes a look at the school.  The teachers all wear a tie and slacks.  The men teachers.  The ladies do okay in their own things but he doesn’t allow open shoes or shorts at all.   And it wouldn’t be right, me wearing a tie and slacks.  He took me to the uniform store and this was my pick.  It works just fine for the things that I do at the school.”

“So you really do know the teachers.”   I thought about all of the custodians that I had come to know over the years.  I remember thinking that people always say that the secretary and the custodian run a school and that there was some truth to that.

“Oh, yes.  And the kids.  It’s the best job a guy could want, Head Custodian.”

“How many people work under you?”  I heard the pride in his voice when he used the title.

“Well, there’s just me.”  His smile radiated satisfaction.  “I’m the head guy.”

I looked away, pretending to study something outside.  I put my sheepish grin away and looked back at Gus, seeing him truly for the first time.  “That sounds fine.  It suits you.”  I glanced around to see several more parties enter the restaurant, stamping their feet and waving at Darla.  “Look, I’ve got to go,” I said to Gus.  “You have a nice Sunday, now.”

He took the hint.  “My regards to Mr.”

“Conner,” I smiled at this man’s genuine interest in a stranger.  “Yes, I’m married.  To a teacher,” I added with a grin.  “A professor of history, actually.”

“Oh!” Gus seemed to assign this importance.  Probably because I did, I thought.

He waved me away.  “Get some rest,” he advised.  “Put a smile in your eyes.”  I broke into a broad laugh.  I felt his gaze on me all the way to the door.  When I turned to wave good-bye he was concentrating on a pile of French toast.

After filling up with gas and settling back into the drive, I rolled his words over in my mind.  He was right.  My eyes would give me away.  I could not let that happen.  But I could not rest just yet.  The drive to Colorado would take a whole night and the rest of the day.  I was not at all interested in stopping.  I put a CD into the player and began tipping the toggle as the first notes of each song came on; every tune took me back to Santa Barbara, and when House at Pooh Corner began I ejected the CD.  Before my eyes could fill with tears I shook my head to resist.  The coffee was doing its job.  I let my mind rev up, planning the things I would say, imagining the things I would see and smell and wrap around myself at Mountain House.  Lizzy wanted me there so that the house would not be lost.  Lizzy wanted me to be with Gran so that the memory of her and her chance for comfort would not be lost.  My sister would help me meet this challenge, to do what was needed.  For the first time in months I felt the stirrings of a calling.  I felt my exhaustion shift to anticipation.

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Thinking Back…



My eyes will not open regardless of internal commands.  Inside, I sift through memories, to ground myself.  Sometimes people ask about your first.  First memory, first kiss, first love.  The first fragment that I really remember is taking a bath in the kitchen sink.  Water enveloped my face.  I remember breathing water, and then it was gone.


Fear of dying is over-rated.  Once you know, it’s just a matter of waiting.  Years ago, a horse reared with me in the saddle.  The two of us went over backward. I thought I was about to die.  It amazed me how still and peaceful I became.  My cheek, pinned against gritty soil, registered the warmth of the earth.  My eyes focused on a saturated blue summer sky, massive oak trees from ground level, and sand near my nose.  The horse, with no thought of being in danger of dying, struggled to right himself.  His legs, cast against the fence, churned the air and struck metal rails, creating sparks of panic.  His neck and upper body lunged upward, only to fall back on mine.  He was stuck.  The saddle horn dug into the ground between my thighs, cradling him upside down like a candlestick holder.  It would take a thoughtful sideways roll to move him off of me, away from the fence, to bring him to his feet.  But he was not thoughtful.  Horses are not particularly smart.  In a panic, they are worse than brainless.  I’m sure it was an accident of balance that helped him recover.  His hooves landed nowhere near me, and so my skull did not mash into the earth as I had supposed it would.  I have never again worried about dying.  Being under a writhing horse, however, could be preferable to lying in a hospital bed attached to life with plastic tubes.


You would think the first real memory of an event would be hard to recall, but it isn’t.  I was a toddler, age undetermined.  The kitchen was square, open in the middle, with a metal legged grayish Formica topped breakfast table.  On one side of the room, a round bodied refrigerator, ‘50’s style.  On the other was a counter that stretched wall to wall, linoleum on the top – some kind of marbled green effect. The cabinets were green, too.  I think they call this color Apple Green when found on a Hoosier or three legged stool in an antique store.  Somehow I had managed to climb a step ladder to the counter to reach a bottle of Brer Rabbit Molasses.  No specific details to help me understand why, but I know the bottle came down.  A puddle of molasses flooded the counter and dripped to the floor.  It was all over me.  My mother was furious.  The cavernous gash she cut into my heart that day has never healed.  My mother taught me much and gave me many things, but like other mentors I have found in positions of power over me, she destroyed my trust.  It shouldn’t, but that feeling outweighs all that she has given.  It has something to do with “I didn’t mean to do that.”  Sometimes, one needs to trust that bad choices might be made and lousy things can happen without intention.


When I was very little I started teaching.  We set up boxes for tables, pillows for stools, and played something we called Post Office.  We took envelopes from the junk mail, affixed S & H Green Stamps, sorted the mail by recipient, and delivered it.  I established the procedures and taught my friends how to play.  I have been doing this ever since.  As a classroom teacher and a school principal, I have spent a lifetime directing people toward something orchestrated and, hopefully, worthwhile.  I watched my daughter, some years ago, teaching a little friend to play a game that they called Orchard.  They sat on either side of a rail fence separating our back yards, with mud pies, bark plates stacked with twigs, and piles of pebbles.  How and why the two girls arranged these things to make meaning was never apparent to me.  I smiled inside, though, watching my child teach another how to play.


I could never tell you who my first love might have been.  It would depend on the definition of love.  I could cite Jamie Long.  He passed me a note in the fifth grade, gracing me with the knowledge that I had been chosen to be his girl during that particular week.  It didn’t last long, but then none of his affairs did.  I was exhilarated, nonetheless.  Still, I would not call it love.  I don’t count my father.  I think that a man who taught Driver’s Training, the behind-the-wheel class, might have been my very first heartfelt Romeo.  I could not tell you his name or even what he looked like, but I remember a song that was popular at the time.  I found love on a two way street, and lost it on a lonely highway…  I remember hearing those lyrics with his manly face and large capable hands in my mind.  I would grip the steering wheel without confidence and he would reassure me, calm me, put his hand where mine should be and instruct me on the Ten O’clock – Four O’clock grip.


I think I was in lust, more than love, with Dinky.  I clearly remember that first kiss.  Medicine Bow, Wyoming – somewhere in the mountains outside of Laramie.  I went to a summer camp to work as a counselor.  I’m sure Dinky had a name but I couldn’t tell you what it was.  Dinky was his camp name. Whose idea was it anyway, to put 17 year old kids in the role of camp counselor?  He was positively lovely and my young body flew to him like steel to a magnet.


I can see myself in a gray cardigan sweater wearing patent leather Mary Jane shoes, my Kindergarten year.  Wooden plaques cut and painted to look like life sized Campbell’s Soup children decorate the wall.  I hang my sweater on one of the wooden pegs protruding from the foot of a soup kid, with his chef’s hat topping a round face, dancing eyes welcoming me to a place that is not home.  My mother walks away, and I have no idea when she will return.  Outside, there are swings, a sandbox, and a slide.  The children and teachers are getting ready for a field trip of some sort.  I am aware that the children will board a bus soon, but I am painting the hot gunmetal-gray slide with a cattail dipped in rainwater.  I watch, fascinated, as the water evaporates, my strokes melting into a mere shadow, and then vanishing.  When the noise of the other children dies away, I know they have gone without me.  The gate to the playground is locked.  I am alone with a tall slide, a pool of dark water at the base, and a clutch of cattails.  I paint the warm metal and watch my brush strokes evaporate.  Eventually the teacher returns with my classmates.  It could be hours later.  This was a significant day.  I discovered how nice it can be to be left alone.

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Making Home Away From Home

Traveling is… unsettling for me. I keep trying to recreate home; it’s like camping, making a circle of the things that civilize the wild. Sitting around the open hearth on makeshift stools, recreating meals that are meant to be crafted in a kitchen, pitching lean-to ceilings to block the open sky. People camp to be out of the home and then simulate the comforts of home to shield them from feeling that they are sleeping in a strange and vulnerable space.
We have been in South Carolina for a few days. This air cannot be tamed. No circle of things from home can dull the thick thrum of cicadas or hold the moisture at bay. Drowsy heat and steamy sounds roll around in slow motion, wrapping everything, softening every edge. It’s not easy to move thoughts or bodies. Insects sing triumphantly, rejoicing in undisputed dominance. Birds and bugs and vegetation own this land. People push them aside in a continuous struggle. Like Sherman’s army bulldozing it’s way across the South to the sea, people roll out pavement and nail Georgia pine into structures that, unwatched for a season, are swallowed by Kudzu and bored through by flying, crawling, sawing creatures of the undergrowth.
We have moved from one Airbnb to another. Each home is a unique expression of its hosts. I better understand, now, how my own home is me. In each place we visit I try to make my circle in the woods. I bring my books so that my mind does not stray too far from where it lives. I bring handwork so that my fingers will feel at home. We stop to buy food so that our most basic urges to break familiar bread together will not be compromised. We travel like we shop for produce, wavering over unfamiliar fruits, reaching for what we know, trying to find ourselves in strange places.
I’m ready to be in the desert again, where heat is crystal clear and sharp. In the shade, relief. In the sun, gently baking into one’s core. Day’s end is marked by evening breezes. Cool night air creeps across suffering stones like water, slaking an eternal thirst.
We have eaten the local cuisine and mostly enjoyed it, but we are struck by the magnitude of financial loss – every meal out seems to take us another giant step into debt. The plane fares and car rental and lodging are a combined expected cost. That cost is like a Christmas tree. Each excursion results in expenditures hanging like decorations on the tree. Some are exquisite but many seem perfunctory. There’s an empty spot on one side. We might need tee shirts to take home to our kids. We decorate that side of the tree with rather plain shirts off the $8.00 table because the really memorable shirts are $20.00.
Do we travel to find out who we are or who we are not? Do we imagine how we would arrange our own furniture in a cave, as Rebecca Solnit muses in A Book of Migrations? Are we turtles, carrying home on our backs or do we plunge into pools without a suit on, trusting depth, temperature, our own ability to swim? I wonder if this journey expands or simply affirms my sense of who I am in this world or in my time. I have mingled with populations busying their individual ways through their Southern lives. I have conversed with couples recently retired, trying to color a new life by hosting traveling strangers in the sanctuary that they call home. Retirement tip #10 – Consider getting to know who you are before planning to spend your retirement traveling. Perhaps this will help you go deeply, to your roots, instead and of landing you at a campsite that requires you to be a turtle. 

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Filed under Retirement, Traveling

Modern Quilt Composition

This is the result of the Bill Kerr workshop last week.  I took the pillow tops in as a jump start.  We decided to add the complexity of another color – the teal.  My stack of rectangles are all in gray prints that read as solids, and solids.  The sides are engaged “Jenga” style by one inch bars that reach, first from side to side, then from left to right, and at the top from right to left.  This little wall quilt is 32 wide by 42 tall.  I am thinking of quilting it with simple wavy lines to accentuate the height and contrast with the very consistent repetitive geometric overall composition.

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Filed under Bill Kerr, Fabric, Farmer's Wife Quilt, Modern Quilting, Quilting

Early Morning Walk

It is the season for hot days.  I went out early to walk the trails in the Petroglyph National Monument.  Basalt boulders with curious white sides here and there.  Scrub vegetation.  Hot air balloons sailing among the thin clouds.  Sand and signs of life.

Trail Head

Trail Head


The Ridge

Looking over Albuquerque – boundary to the open space.  See the balloons in the distance?  Every morning – balloons!


Carin along the trail.

Evidence of Struggle

Evidence of a struggle…


Coyote Tracks

Lizzard Trail

Lizzard Trail



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Filed under New Mexico