Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Picture I didn't Take

In the middle of this big wet snowstorm, about 6pm, the dogs had been gone for about two hours. It was getting dark, the power was out, Tom was out of town. I went out looking for them, mostly so I wouldn't be lonely. I found them a few hundred yards from the house. Fergus, the tall and skinny one was fine, but the squat border collie, Tess was covered in huge snow balls, and was stuck in a tree well. I'd like to think Fergus was staying with her so she wouldn't be alone, but he was staring at the chipmunk in the branches above him.

I picked up Tess, slung her around my shoulders like a wet, orphaned calf, and walked back up the hill to home in snow up to the middle of my thighs. It was kind of Western. It felt like husbandry. Snow falling all around, a house with a fire and a half a bottle of wine waiting, a dog wrapped around me and another bounding like a deer as we made our way back.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Yesterday as I sat in my car in the parking lot of Moe's Bagels looking under the seat for my wallet, the man who was parked next to me returned to his truck. "Hey pups," he said to the two black and whites in my backseat. He asked me if he could give them a biscuit. After fawning over them as they ate, he handed me an orange dumb dumb sucker (he had just been at the bank). Then, he asked me if I was married, assured me he wasn't flirting, just cleaning out his pockets, and handed me a heart-shaped rock.

So my mind went where it always does, and I started imagining a life for a stranger. I thought about a man who goes to the bank and takes home a dog cookie for a dog he doesn't have, a sucker for a child he doesn't have. A man who picks up heart shaped rocks for a love he hopes to find.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Partner in Time (travel)

My best moments this winter were these: for three days in a row, two hours at a time, I gave a private "ski lesson" to an 81 year old woman who had Kyphosis (hump back) so severe she could barely walk. To look up at me, she would  tilt her head sideways and look from the corners of her eyes. She was tiny and frail looking and she came all the way from Chicago on the pretense of visiting her grandkids. I know, though, that she really came to ski.

For Edith, walking was slow, methodical, painful, and annoying. But on skis, she could move. Her joints didn't ache. She got around. 

Every day, for three days in a row, her son- in- law would bring her up, and she'd lean on his arm all the way from the car to the Nordic Center. He didn't ski, so he'd bring a book and two hours later he'd help her make her way back to the car. If he only knew what she was up to while he sat inside and read.

For those two hours, I'm not sure, but I think Edith felt like she was flying. On one of those days, a day so windy and cold that even the thermometer in the sun read only seven degrees, Edith said to me as we headed up the mile-long, steady incline called 17th Ave., "Nothing hurts now." I made a mental note to self to think about those words whenever I'm out there, feeling too cold or too tired or too whatever, whenever I'm feeling too sorry. 

The day after that horrendously cold one, we had one of those January Thaw kind of days. By the time Edith came up for her "lesson" the temperature had gone from almost 40 degrees, back down to around 20. These melt freeze conditions make for very fast snow--snow that's more ice than snow.

It was also Edith's last day in Colorado. She really wanted a good ski. And she wanted to stay in the tracks for as much of her two hours as possible. If you've not cross country skied, "tracks" are set by grooming machines. They are two grooves, exactly the width of your two skis, and about an inch deep. They make the kick and glide of classic cross country skiing much easier and more rhythmic than skiing on flat snow. On downhills, though, staying in the tracks can go from thrilling to slightly terrifying, especially on those icy melt-freeze days.

Edith said she wanted to try to stay in the tracks all the way down the hill that is 17th Ave., back to the Nordic Center. This is a woman who still works part time, and who still plays piano in her town's orchestra. You don't discourage a woman like Edith.

I skied next to her, outside of the tracks, where I could easily wedge my skis to slow myself down. That is, if I could had had an opportunity to slow myself down. Edith was flat-out moving. Knees bent, eyes forward and flying down that hill. I couldn't take my eyes off her face. It looked like she had gone to another time. I still think about how it must have felt to go so fast when walking across a room can seem to take all day. 

I got so lost in the moment that it wasn't until I saw the look of horror on another ski instructor's face as Edith's stocking capped head flew by, that I realized that maybe she was going a little too fast. 

We came up on the sharp turn at the second to last intersection, and I knew she couldn't stay in the tracks around that corner. I also knew that she couldn't step out of them and snowplow either, as she'd just informed me that due to her hip replacement, her legs didn't lift up like that anymore. The only way to emergency stop for Edith would be to fall. So, as sort of a visual cue, I fell first, and I watched a barely-able-to-walk 81 year old woman hit the ground next to me. While we sat there for a second, and I asked if she was alright, she said to me, "That was the best thing I've done in a long time. I can't imagine anything better."

We got back to the Nordic Center, and I helped her out of her skis, and she leaned on my arm as we walked back inside. As I handed her off to her son in law, I felt like I had a secret, having just witnessed the miracle of old lady flight. I had aided and abetted time travel. And I was fairly certain  I knew what at least one person would dream about that night.

Monday, January 5, 2009

choosing my religion

A good man, father, husband and community member lost his life last week. He was killed by someone who's mental problems turned him into a monster. His last words--the words that, as his priest said at his funeral, resulted in his dying a "martyr's death" were, "I'm Catholic." The gunman had asked him, "what's your religion." The priest then asked his congregation, "how many of you could answer such a question?"

I had heard about this question right after I heard the identity of the victim. The disbelief of who and how felt like a stomach punch. And interspersed with all the thoughts of this loss and his family, I wondered what I would have answered. It's easy to say, "well....I'm not really into any organized religion..." when you're having a beer with friends, but what would the answer be if the questioner were pointing a gun to my head?

When I honestly answered that question--placing myself in that tense situation, my one-word answer would most likely have been "nothing." Nothing. Is that the truth?

Liz Caile was a writer who raised her children in a cabin on Sugarloaf. She was wise and funny and I felt lucky to know her. A book of her stories was published after she died, and in one she talked about religion and how she found her's in the wilderness. Her church was the Earth--literally. She loved to walk and hike, "I pray with my feet, " she said. I've always loved that.

Another writer friend, Peter Mayer, wrote a song called "Holy Now". He writes about how now, as a grown man, he's able to see that the miracle is that anything is here at all-- that everything is Holy.

This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
--From Holy Now by Peter Mayer

I wasn't raised with religion. I grew up in a small farming town, and Sundays were days to get a lot of work done, since we didn't have school, and my dad wasn't at work. Every once in a while, I'd ask my mom to let me go to church with the neighbors. Their oldest son, Donald, was my age, and he got to ring the bell at the start of the service. If I went with them he'd let me take turns with him, pulling a thick rope that went up into the second story and the belfry. That, and the part after the service where we went downstairs and ate cookies while the grownups talked were the best parts of church.

I still don't go to church. I always hope that by volunteering in my community, but helping when I can, by living low on the food chain, and by taking care, I'm living a good life, which is what religion teaches--in various forms. I am constantly awed by what I find just outside my door, by how much humans can endure, by beautiful words, music, art.

Until I truly believe in something else, and I am searching-- I hope that my answer to that question, "what's your religion?" would have been, "Everything".

Monday, August 11, 2008


Our alarm is set to NPR, and on Sunday, still half asleep, I heard a familiar voice yell,"Jim, take it easy on those biscuits, they'll turn into rocks!" Steve Badt is an old friend from Washington, DC, and he's yelled at all of us at one time or another. Steve was featured on Sunday's Morning Edition for the amazing work he does with Miriam's Kitchen, a program to feed restaurant-worthy meals to the homeless in Washington, DC.

Steve could have been a chef in any of the great restaurants in that city. He did own a restaurant for awhile. Friends who should have known better went to work for him, to help him out when he was just starting. Fortunately they were young and quick on their feet. Dishes and dishrags were thrown. The last straw was when our friend Patti had to duck a flying sauce pan. We were used to him yelling at us, but this physical assault added a new dimension, and resignations were turned in so friendships could be salvaged.

The thing is, with Steve, no matter how ugly it gets, there are never hard feelings. His nickname is Pash--sort for passion, because of his strong opinions, love for poetry, and his way of getting in your face about anything that matters to him. I think I'm the only one who stands up to him in the kitchen. That's because I only bake when I'm around him, and I'm a better baker than he is.

He's been operating Miriam's kitchen for years now. He makes the most amazing meals for the homeless. He makes them feel like human beings. He gets up every morning at 4:30 and rides his bike to the church where he makes quiches and omelets and farmer's market salads and orchestrates a whole bunch of dedicated volunteers. At 7 am, the doors open and a line of homeless people pass through the cafeteria style line and they get to choose their breakfast. Something as simple as getting to make a choice for what you are going to eat makes a huge difference.

He gives them a hot, healthy meal, but mostly, he gives them some dignity to start their day.

I'm going back to visit in the fall. I've just signed up for one of his breakfast shifts. He wants me to make 30 pies. I'm excited and honored. I'm also glad I'll be armed with a rolling pin.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Where You Need to Be

I found another trail last night. I waited til the lightning and the hail were over before I ventured out to the field where, if I squinted, I could kind of make out a little path that takes off through the meadow and into the aspen trees. I found a way down the hill and across the creek (on an old, broken 2 x12--so someone else had the same idea, once upon a time). And yes, it was a trail.

My favorite thing in the world--a new-to-me trail. I meandered and grinned and smelled the wet ground smell as my legs got rain-slapped by tall grass. I saw no evidence of recent bikeage--or even recent hikage. This little path was overgrown, but beneath the tall grass was a way someone used to use to get from here to there. This is the magic of the old trails around here, and there are lots of them.

Caribou is a special place. There are sacred Arapaho ruins just a walk from where I live, and very nearby are the remains of what was once a thriving mining town. There are some trails on which I only walk. They feel so special that rolling over them on a mountain bike would be disrespectful. I don't give them names, and I don't want to know what other people call them.

There's a lot of riding in this Nederland area, and most of these places feel....recreational. Beautiful, fun, wild, even. But I haven't been to many places that feel as special as Caribou. The past has really lingered here. I live in a ghost town.

So last night, as I rode through meadow and flowers and crossed the creek three more times and finally ended up at the remains of a cabin, I thought about who used this trail before me. I know it wasn't some group ride, just off the 5:40 bus from Boulder (not that there's anything wrong with that). Maybe it was the light. It was that just-after-an-evening-thunderstorm sepia and I was all melancholy for a past that's not even mine. There was also a rainbow. And then, as I was turning around to head back home, on the ground next to my bike was a perfect, six-point elk antler.

I find at least one of these antler sheds every summer. I always find them when I've stopped to look at something far away, or to (usually the case) try to figure out where I've gotten myself to, and how to get back to where I need to be. It is at these moments that I look down, and there will be the antler, and I will all of a sudden be perfectly placed.

I always think of it as a gift--because I'm spiritual like that. I think of a big ol' bull elk shaking his great head until this antler falls off (and then I think about how funny he must have looked walking around with only one antler), and I look around and take in the world as he was taking it in, and then I bring it home and stack it on the pile with the other antlers on the shelf that was my grandmother's.

I like to think that the elk was watching me as I carried what was once part of him, home. I especially hope he was watching when the tip his antler got caught between my fork and my spoke just as I came down the steep hill that ends in a creek crossing.

Monday, July 28, 2008


I spent Sunday with my husband and a chainsaw. We thinned some trees that needed to be thinned for fire mitigation, we de-limbed others for the same reason. We moved a bunch of dirt and rocks and used some of those cut trees to build jumps and bridges and lots of other things that are fun to ride your bike on.

Krista Tippet of Speaking of Faith was on NPR that afternoon. Her subject was the Spirituality of Play, and how important play is and how, as adults, we somehow stop doing the one thing that made us happier than anything when we were kids.

I am often scraped and bruised and dirty, but I never think I'm too old to be falling down as much as I do. I fall down hard at least once every week. I'm always happy that I usually jump right up continue the ride. Mostly, though, I'm happy that I'm still doing things that occasionally make me hurt myself. I think an interesting survey would be to ask people in their 30's and 40's "When was the last time you fell down while playing?"

Tennis with your wii doesn't count.

I used to work for a recreation department. We had a ropes course, and corporations were always bringing their employees out for "team building". I don't know if these courses ever built effective teams, but I do know that the participants always started out with their arms crossed and their eyes rolling and thinking that the whole day was a waste of time. By the time they were on the zip line, or the climbing wall, or playing dodge ball with their bosses, it was like they were different people. They were all drunk on adrenaline and endorphins and holding their stomachs they were laughing so hard. At least one of them would say to me, "Wow. You get to do this every day? How lucky."

I would tell that person, "You can do this everyday, too. Do you know there's an Ultimate Frisbee league in town. Have you ever ridden your bike down the tow path?"

Our recreation department offered all kinds of courses. From climbing to caving to mountain biking. Without a doubt, the majority of our clients were school groups and corporations. In other words, people who were forced to be there.

How lucky, indeed. How lucky to know that I'm probably going to have a new bruise by the end of the week, and how lucky to have a long skinny bridge and a brand new jump in my own backyard.