The Christmas Tree


In childhood, no fake tree for us.

Just after Thanksgiving, the family search transpired.

Mom and Dad preferred Douglas fir, six feet tall.

Dutifully, we kept the tree holder filled with water,

never used real candles.  We put on lights, big ones,

blue, green, red, an inch long, then carefully hung on delicate,

colorful, round balls.  The most difficult task: the icicles,

long, silver, reflective.  They had to go on just so.

Years later, children gone, Mom and Dad bought an

artificial tree, fake Douglas fir, incredibly real in appearance.

 

When they left Missouri for Arizona every winter after harvest,

they abandoned Christmas trees, gave me the fake Douglas fir.

I still have it.  How long?  Decades, several at least.  State of the art

when they bought it, it requires work, assembly, strings of lights.

Every year, I tell myself it is time to get one of those new trees with lights

already installed, so much easier to take up and down.  I never buy one.

I cannot bear to part with Mom and Dad’s tree.  One year, annoyed with

putting on lights, I decorated it lightless.  I missed the lights.  Now every year,

decades later, I assemble it, take the time to string the lights.  Some of the lower

branches no longer stay, but I work around that, hang the colorful, delicate

Christmas ornaments I love, collected over years and years, wrap the base in

the red and white cloth given to me from Africa. On cold evenings, like this one,

I turn off the other lights, drink tea like my mother did, and remember my

childhood.

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Black Raspberries


Mom filled the white bowl with black raspberries.

I pour Bossie’s white milk over them,

watched it form a pattern,

flowing around the raspberries–

a design in deep purple and white.

I thought it almost too beautiful to eat.

I was seven.

Now I rarely find black raspberries.  Red ones won’t do.  They lack intensity, the beauty.  Every year we went to Hunt’s Orchard north of Amazonia, Missouri, to buy black raspberries, took them home, sorted to discard the imperfect ones, then threw them way behind the garden next to the timber–huge trees, oak and hickory.  Eventually, these imperfections transformed into thriving black raspberry bushes.  We had our own patch, created from the discarded, the imperfect.

Mom fed us fresh raspberries for a few days.  The rest she used to create her famous pies, froze a freezer full.  Baked, they transformed a winter kitchen into the warmth and sweetness of my mother’s family devotion.

I bake pies, many kinds of pies.  I have never made a black raspberry pie.

 

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Note:  this will be published in an upcoming publication by the Story Circle Network.  In July my daughter, grandson, and I went to Hunt’s Orchard–yes, it still exists.  I asked about black raspberries.  We were too late; the season was over.  The timber behind the garden area was to the right in this photo.  The person who bought the land years later bulldozed down all the big trees.

Sunday Poem


A few years ago Uno Mundo Press published my second book, a book of poems.  Reviewers say it is a memoir.  Oddly, that was not the plan; in retrospect, it seems apt.  The poems’ topics are not chronological but rather via topic with quotations before each topic as a sort of introduction.  For the foreseeable future, while I continue writing another book, I will post one poem from the book every Sunday.

The book begins with this quotation:

“Do something scandalous to give your descendants something

to talk about when you are gone.”  Vanessa Talbot

 

The first section begins with this quote by Judith Jameson, the famous dancer and choreographer:

“I always tell my dancers.

You are not defined by your fingertips,

or the top of you head,

or the bottom of your feet.

You are defined by you.

You are the expanse.

You are the infinity.”

 

The first poem in the book goes like this:

I Have Lived

Depression, sad days, melancholy.

Gone!

At 26, I said, “To hell with this!

You control you life, live it!”

 

I tried forbidden liaisons, trained horses,

Traveled around the world, a cobra wrapped around my neck,

Walked the Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir,

Stood before the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi,

Watched the Taj Mahal reflected in still waters,

Walked the streets of Katmandu,

Talked to monks at Shwedagon Pagoda,

Bargained with sticks in dirt, math our only common language,

Downed raw turtle eggs in Costa Rica,

Danced on table tops, sang “Adonai”,

Roamed empty roads across the Navaho Nation,

Divorced four times,

Raised two talented children.

 

I have lived, running on the rim of wonder.

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Own Everything


Checked my Facebook today and this quote showed up–posted by a fellow friend and author. It is from Ann Lamont:

“You own everything that happened to you.  Tell your stories.  If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

 

 

Note:  In spite of a few men having referred to me as a scandalous woman after reading my book, “On the Rim of Wonder”, I still have not been sued for slander.  It has been a few years.  I think I am safe.  Always tell your truth.  Be open to adventure.  Live your life.  Be the best you that you can be.

 

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Frozen


Two weeks ago today, the sickening news came:  my daughter’s father, my ex-husband, suffered a massive heart attack while working.  Rushed to the hospital, resuscitated, then open heart surgery. He never regained consciousness, not yet.  He lies there, part of his brain not working, tube-fed, not breathing on his own.

She drove all night, six hours to get there.  She thought they had taken her to the wrong room, unrecognizable.  Last week end, I drove with her.  Except for his hands, I would not have recognized him myself, so thin, so aged. How could someone change that much in the ten years since I had last seen him?  She went back again late this week, returned late last night.  Moved to a longterm care facility, he remains the same except he no longer even opens his eyes, no more staring into the void.

I feel frozen.  This morning I delivered my grandson to my daughter–he stayed with me this trip.  Checking on her father’s apartment, my daughter found his photos, some from when we were young.  She showed a few to me.  I stared, shocked, dismayed.  My today’s to-do list just sits here.  I force myself to work at it bit by bit, write two peer review assignments for a class I am taking–I do not want to disappoint, vacuum and dust one room at a time, tell myself I need to go out on this 20 degrees warmer than normal day and garden, write this blog post.   I feel frozen.

He had plans neither she nor I knew about, plans to perhaps make him happier, return to the land of his birth.  Will some miracle occur, will he awaken, recover?  Is there some appropriate time for which we wait?

I feel frozen.  When will I thaw?

 

Isabella–En Memorium


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The crematorium handed me the 6″ by 4 ” dark brown wooden box.  I knew it would be heavy; Isabella was an eighty pound wolf dog. I thought I was prepared.

Driving home, memories:

March 2006, daughter calls; two year old grandson wants a beta. I drive to PetSmart.  Daughter tells me I must see these unusual, incredible seven-week-old puppies.  Alert brown eyes look at me.  Too big, black ears wiggle.  The label says wolf, German Shepard, Blue Heeler.  The two remaining puppies look like light colored German Shepherds or Belgium Malinois.  I had not planned to get a dog, not yet.

Two years later I move into my new house:  canyon edge, horses, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, road runners, mockingbirds, rattlesnakes.  Isabella guards her property, sits on the patio where she can check for invaders.  She rarely barks, growls.  When she does, high alert–I check.  Neighbor dogs, coyotes, foxes, chased off–not bobcats.  She watches them.

I remember the day she dismembered a skunk, drug the carcass everywhere.  After eleven baths at PetSmart, the skunk smell remained.  The one day she growled, I shocked, investigated–a man walking down the arroyo toward the house.  Growls became increasingly loud.  Out on the patio, she stands, the man sees her, turns and runs.  I feel safe, Isabella guarding, telling me if something unusual occurs.  She’s mixed breed; I think she’ll live long.

Every morning, evening, she completes horse chores with me, chases bunnies, roadrunners.  Two months ago, I, mesmerized, watch her catch, gobble two half-grown bunnies in less than one minute–nothing left.  Mixed breed; I think she’ll live long.

Friday morning she helps me with chores, chases bunnies.  Friday afternoon she can hardly move.  At the vet, blood work like a four year old; x-ray shows a little something wrong.  They give her two shots, schedule an ultra-sound for Saturday morning at another vet’s.  Meds working, Saturday morning she’s her usual lively self, eager to travel in the truck, nose wet and cold.

Ultrasound vet tells me there’s little hope.  Shocked, I stand there.  “If she were your dog, what would you do?”

“Put her to sleep.  She’s not in pain.  She has a tumor the size of your small fist on her intestines–might be cancer, hard to operate.”

I look at the vet, frozen.

At 8:00 Wednesday evening, I open the box, take out the bag of Isabella’s steel grey ashes, walk out to her patio spot, the place where she guarded her kingdom, toss a handful of ashes into the wind, watch them float and scatter down into the canyon, tears tracking down my face.  I close the bag, walk to the place where our long yearling colt, Star, is buried, dig an eight inch hole, bury another handful of ashes.  I take the one tablespoon of ashes left back to the house, put them back in the black velvet bag and into the box with the card with her paw print, the crematorium certificate, the sympathy card signed by all the employees where they euthanized her, place it on top of a stack of old magazines in the Chinese cabinet.

At bedtime, I forget, go to call her in.  This morning I find her hairs–she shed so much, wolf undercoat.  Evidence of her presence permeates.

It will never end.

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Ethiopian Journey–From Addis Ababa to Debre Birhan


Addis is the second highest capital in the world.  Only La Paz, Bolivia, is higher.  To a large extent, altitude determines climate in Ethiopia.  Addis and the surrounding area, much of which is high altitude farmland, receives a lot of rain this time of year and looks totally unlike what a lot of people think of when they hear the word Ethiopia–not desert but rather miles and miles of green.

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We had not driven far from Addis when we crossed a river, an area of which is considered healing.  Many people had come for priests to bless them and to experience the healing power of the water.

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I saw only three tractors in ten days of criss crossing farmland.  Why so few?  One reason is rocks.  Many of the fields remain rather full of rocks in spite of many having been removed.

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Therefore, they farm the “old fashioned” way; horses or cattle pulling plows with a human behind.

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Houses in the villages in the farming areas demonstrate old ways alongside new.

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Winnowing the way we did in the USA a century ago.

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Much of the farmland is a picturesque patchwork quilt of browns and greens.

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Before dropping down to lower country, we drove by Menelik’s Window.   The drop off here is steep and far.  I did not go near it–I had not yet become used to the endless drop-offs or even realized that I would need to do so.  This is one of four places in Ethiopian where you can see gelada baboons.  They are extinct elsewhere. Menelik was an Ethiopian emperor.  This “window” allows one to look from the high country for miles and miles to the landscape beyond.

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The large tufts of grass provide food for the gelada which are grass eating herbivores, the last of the grass eating primates.  All others are extinct.  This same grass is used by the locals for roofing material so boys stay in these areas all day chasing off the baboons.

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To keep themselves busy they weave woolen baskets and hats to sell which they display in the grass.

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This ten year old boy happily donned the hat he had made.  I bought it for my grandson who was the same age when I took the trip.

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Except for the different vegetation, driving down the mountain looked a lot like driving through Colorado.

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Down from the mountain the landscape appears quite different and considerably drier.  We drove through several smaller towns on our way to Debre Birhan where we stayed the first night.

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Driving in Ethiopia requires navigating around animals.  Everyone drives their cattle, camels, horses, all livestock down the road whenever possible.  The roads are generally very good.  Many, built by the Italians, have stood the test of decades.

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Along the road we saw many of these “apples”.  My friend told us how they played with them as a child.  However, the adults all warned the children not to touch their eyes when they did–it will make you blind.  They are called Apples of Sodom–so many things in Ethiopia have symbolic meaning.

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These fruit could be seen all along the road and even on the road.  After driving through this drier area we rose above a huge valley with miles and miles of grass.

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A semi-nomadic group brings their immense herds of cattle here in the rainy season to graze.  When we drove further on above the valley, I saw the first tractor working a field as big as this grazing land.

 

 

 

Barbie Doll


This poem praises my mother.  It is page 17 of my memoir in poems, “On the Rim of Wonder”.  It seems appropriate to republish it here for Mother’s Day.

 

Barbara Lewis Duke, pretty, petite, blue-eyed, and blond, my mother,

one fearless, controlling woman.  Long after Mom’s death, Dad said,

“Barbara was afraid of absolutely no one and nothing.”  They married

late:  34 and 38.  He adored her unconditionally.  She filled my life

with horses, music, love, cornfields, hay rides, books, ambition.  Whatever

she felt she had missed, I was going to possess:  books, piano lessons, a

college education.  Her father, who died long before I was born, loved fancy,

fast horses.  So did she.  During my preschool, croupy years, she quieted my

hysterical night coughing with stories of run away horses pulling her

in a wagon.  With less than 100 pounds and lots of determination, she

stopped them, a tiny Barbie Doll flying across the Missouri River Bottom,

strong, willful, free.

Gratitude


Usually, I plan my posts, write them out carefully, sometimes even proof a couple of times.  Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States.  Even though I know all about the historical lies to cover up the truth about the supposed original Thanksgiving, I continue to think this is a useful and fun holiday for several reasons.  Thankfulness, gratitude, remains the primary source of a happy life.  The list of things for which I am thankful seems nearly endless:

-health

-living in a place filled with natural beauty

-my daughter

-my grandson

-my son, even though we talk only occasionally and he lives far away

-teaching

-my students, one of whom posted on Facebook this morning that he is grateful that he had me as a teacher ten years ago

-the friends who took me with them to Ethiopia this past summer

-all my other friends locally and from all over the world

-the exchange students who have lived with me and from whom I receive messages regularly

-my parents for whom I owe eternal gratitude for teaching me values, independence, tolerance, a love of beauty and knowledge, and a sense of wonder

-music

-my ability to sing

-horses

-wildlife, nature–here where I am so fortunate to live

-art

-my ability to write

-all the people who love my book of poetry and tell me they do–I might also include the people, mostly men, who find it shocking

-happiness and the choice I made to be happy all those long years ago

-red wine

-plentiful food

I could go on and on.  However, it seems best to end with this fantabulous morning on my own little rim of wonder and say I am thankful for a life filled with so many astonishing events and experiences I never expected and for which I am endlessly grateful.

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