Sunday, May 28, 2006

Readying for Traveling East

A peek at the calendar tells me how few days are remaining before heading to our cabin in the lower Catskills. I'm nervous. How to finish my jewelry order, make new pieces to replace what has been purchased, decide how much/how little to pack--these questions plague me when I'm unable to sleep nights.

Today we talked with J about how much Madison has grown within its little city limits. She's horrified that her small town has burgeoned into a bedroom community chock full of new restaurants and strip malls. Why we don't object is due to the excellent planning by our mayor and her architectural guidelines. Those strip malls are well-placed, there're no streets with auto sales or fast food services approaching the city; Wal Mart spent four years adjusting building plans to meet the guidelines. I appreciate my little city despite its tremendous growth.

However, life in the quiet mountains is a dessert we seek in the summers. This is a time of reflection, of getting centered and quiet inside. A time to discover what we don't have time to observe during a busy life: the shape of limbs, the color of leaves in the fall, the distant call of turkeys, the sudden appearance of a family of deer grazing in the bit of grass we've planted, the sound of rain on our metal roof or the crunch of hooves at night on our patio or the breeze whistling through the trees.

Life there, too, is a training ground for living simply. If suddenly chaos should hit, at it did on the Gulf Coast, we know how to pick up the pieces and live on emergency status without sweat. In the deep woods our bodies automatically kick the Sandman into action when daylight fades, curl our eyelids open when the early morning light peeks over the mountains. We know the secret of living with only the basics. Time is fast approaching....I've got a lot to do...did I just say that?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Another Friend Moves On

I don't like to think of anyone dying, his bones resting in the earth. My myth(not my belief) is that all go to another plane to contemplate their earthly life and decide the importance of advancing to another level. Some early Indians of North America believed in levels of Heaven: the highest was occupied by soldiers, the lowest by slaves. In between were levels for babies who died young, and for mothers. I've lost a childhood friend whose battle with cancer was hard-fought. If he were Aztec, he'd be sitting on the highest plane.

I visited B in San Antonio last November. Our conversations were about high school and college days, forgotten loves, hated routines, teen struggles and inner feelings. I updated him on the who's and where's of our high school friends. B and I recalled our unsuccessful tryout for high school cheerleaders, Civil Air Patrol outings, fellowship at church events, Saturday night Youth for Christ, and finding time to ride around town on Saturday afternoons.

B came into my life when my aunt married a second time and her new husband had a son, a sixth grader at the time. Fate gave us each a sibling. My sister was too young to share my life and B fit the bill exactly. He and I were each other's dates when we wanted to impress or make jealous someone else, companions on air flights with CAP hunting imaginary downed airplanes, or just sitting in the park talking. He confessed he hadn't been the best kid in town in those days and a lousy dad later. I reminded him that parent guides weren't handed out at the hospital; we had to fly by the seat of our pants. He said he flew a plane better than that.

Marriage and family life separated us. For over 30 years we had little connection, his living overseas most of that time. He went on to become a caring chaplain in the U.S. Army and retiring after 27 years. During his time in Vietnam, he was the subject of a Mississippi newspaper article about a local soldier nurturing others on the battlefield. When he retired we began to get news of each other.

After the death of his dad, we exchanged email addresses. I didn't write for several years. When I made the time, his wife D responded. His cancer regime had begun and rocked back and forth over seven years. In the meantime, D, died of cancer. B had support from son R and wife S to ease the numerous low times. He was so proud that he and D had built a Sunday School class in his church from four members to a whopping 200 who supported him throughout. They, in turn, had a magnificent teacher. Perhaps deep down he felt his work for the Lord offset failure as a dad to his other adult children.

May 18 at 5 p.m. B died in his sleep. Goodby for now, B, we had fun times, sad times, loving times. I thank you for being yourself, for staying alive long enough to discover that I loved and appreciated you as a brother. Give a hug to D, you dad, and your stepmom for me.

"Honor your father and your mother,that the days may be long in the land, which the Lord your God gives you." (Exodus 20:12)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Abiqui, NM and Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe is in town. Well, not her exactly, since she's busy painting Heaven with flowers right now.

Our Mississippi Arts Museum has had her works hanging for over a month now. We visited the second week of opening. No crowd, room to stand in front of our favorite scene for as long as we chose, minds wandering to the area of Abiqui we once visited. Understanding in a small way how she could search the dry hills and find beauty in white bones of animals long gone. Yet, the canvasses of these bones and the explanation of the character she found in them, alerted us to the workings of her mind.

O'Keeffe painted the most spectacular flowers--like looking through a magnifying glass examining minute cavities made by the petals. She began her flower painting in New York City because she felt the people there never had time to view flowers: "...they rush around so, they have not time to look...I want them to see whether they want to or not."

She didn't limit herself to flowers. She painted buildings in NYC from her upper floor apartment...tree trunks on Lake George...dry bones found on her property all creating beauty in ways one ordinary person would not view otherwise. Her means of expression enlightens the viewer, how one can observe nature differently.

Abiqui is an interesting town. Perhaps not much larger than in O'Keeffe's day. Magical. Who'd want to live in such a vast desert with scrub trees, dry gullies that could drown a person or animal when the rains poured, and hot, hot sun? My daughter did.

In one of her many journeys to discover what she wanted in life, where she wanted to live, she chose Abiqui. So Dad and I fired up the RV, headed to New Mexico to see the land she'd found. Everything was just as we had expected. Dry dirt everywhere, making it impossible to keep our feet clean. The property she wanted to buy was on a mesa with gulleys dug by previous rains, and an unfinished hay bale house. We shared the experience with our daughter, knowing full well that getting a loan for this property was impossible, but not wanting to tell her ourselves. We hired an appraiser, checked out the possibility of a well, admired the vastness seen from the unfinished house. We coached her on an interview with the banker, with a caution that she may be turned down for several reasons, then let her go alone to the interview.

She was disappointed, her dream shattered. But a lesson learned. You don't try to buy a piece of property without a decent paying job and history of working. We rode around the area, talked to owners of small shops who'd moved to the area. Visited one woman who'd bought a beautiful little adobe home sitting on the crest of a hill, heard her story of movie stars having hidden homes just down the road, how she came to be in the area, how she was making a living. She was happy being in this desert, just as O'Keiffe had been. Yes, it's a magical place.

The magic lies in the way the light sets on the surrounding hills in the early mornings and evenings, creating a potpourri of colors so vivid that one couldn't believe them without actually witnessing them. This play of color is enchanting...why New Mexico is called The Land of Enchantment. Despite the loneliness of the area, something beckons the harried, those living in concrete jungles. The area is peopled with Indians from numerous tribes whose casinos and trading posts lie along the route from Albuquerque to Taos. Abiqui's location along this route is rich in history.

Besides two small restaurants, one motel, two artisan shops, and a gas station, there was a large complex built just outside town which houses a religious sect. Although we saw no representatives of this group during our visit, locals assured us they were present. Mostly they stayed within their campus with all they needed in the enclosure.

One aspect of Abiqui that I didn't like, and I found this on a map in an artisan shop, was the proximity to Los Alamos Proving Grounds. The map, which I studied intently while the family talked to the leather artist, showed the effects of the toxic clouds that formed from bomb testing. Abiqui was right there. I knew our daughter didn't need to live there. As we looked around the store we saw paintings of the hills and desert in different lights by area artists. Each landscape had a black dot on the painting. When we inquired, we were told, unabashedly, "that scene is in a toxic area." I wondered how long these folks would live without cancer attacking them.

A sign along the highway going out of Abiqui pointed the way to Ghost Ranch, O'Keeffe's home. Thinking it was private we didn't inquire whether or not we could drive through. Later I discovered retreats are held there for writers and photographers, as well as varied other activites. If I return to Abiqui, it'll be to Ghost Ranch--mainly for the privilege of walking the hills, seeing the beauty that still remains.

Visit for her bio and photos of her works.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Miss Eudora Welty, At Home

Visiting the homes of writers has been a pleasure for me. Although I've only walked through a few, each has been a spiritual journey into the life and times of great imaginations. I've seen where Nathanial Hawthorn looked upon the sea from his writing desk, Mark Twain penned his stories in his spacious attic, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's frequent room at the Wayside Inn, where he wrote his Tales. But the visit to Miss Eudora's home was the one that moved me the most.

Her two-story Tudor home was built in 1925 is now a National Historic Landmark. The garden in the back remains the same as when Miss Eudora lived 76 years of her life. The home has been restored to its mid-1980's appearance, the period in which Miss Eudora was actively writing. Sis and I and friend Sue, all of us connected to writing and reading, waited on an overcast day to be among the first visitors.

The home is fully furnished with its original contents. It is considered one of the most intact literary houses in the nation. Everything we'd ever heard of this demure lady was evident in our passage through the house. We were reminded of the spot in the dinette where Miss Eudora drank her coffee, admiring the garden her mother had laid out in earlier years; we saw her work room, at the front of the house on the second floor, where she could wave at the neighbors (and later the curious)while continuing to peck on her manual typewriter. We were reminded that she laid out her stories, cut into slips of paragraphs, which she rearranged before adjusting placement with the typewriter.

Absence were the most of the 5,000 volumes of books she had accumulated. One guide told us that the rooms were full of books standing in columns along the floor, piled on tables and chairs, in every corner. We saw only a fraction of that number, but got the feeling that books were her companion. Many had been given by other writers, many she'd obtained herself, but nevertheless, she didn't discard any. The secretary holding all of Miss Eudora's first editions which she gave to her mother as each were published, was still in its original place. We saw in the kitchen the old flue where the wood-burning stove once ate up the only copy of Petrified Man . This discard was Miss Eudora's reaction when the book was rejected for publication. However, a short time later, the publisher changed his mind and Miss Eudora sat down at her typewriter and punched out the story from memory--a year later.

Because Miss Eudora was grateful to the editors and writers who helped her in her early career, she always had a genuine interest in helping new and aspiring writers who ask for advice. She had a longtime group of friends who congregated often to discuss books and authors and everyday subjects dear to them.

She lived among her family's furnishings alone after her loving parents died. She was content to wander through the house full of happy memories, with the idea that one day she'd bequeathe this home as a literary house in honor of her parents, who instilled a life-long interest in reading.

Equally interesting was the garden, laid out by her mother and carefully tended by daughter until her death in 2001. As Miss Welty once said of this garden full of original plants, her mother wanted a "learning experience, a living picture, always changing." It was this beautiful space that inspired Miss Eudora to include references to gardening in her writings. The "distinctive characteristics of camellas, dahlias, dafodils, and a host of other flowers and plants provided powerful images and metaphors for her fiction"(from the folder "The Garden of The Eudora Welty House"). We walked past a bed of beautiful roses, Mrs. Welty's favorite; around 30 varieties of camelias, past a perennial border of bearded irises, daylillies, sweetpeas, usually yellow or orange in color;a cutting garden of hollyhocks,larkspur, and ragged robins with changes of blooms each season. This area, too, was spiritual, knowing how often Miss Eudora could sit away from the busy street and enjoy the fragrances that surrounded her. It seemed that life stood still for Miss Eudora to capture the senses that she set on paper.

Miss Eudora, for those who are unfamiliar, received the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the French Legion of Honor, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the William Dean Howells Gold Medal for Fiction, the National Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts, and memberships in the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

And she lived a hop and a skip away from my home.