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.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Into the Galaxy

Last September, Tom and I sold our behemoth place--a place with land, and lots of square footage, and a big barn and (good lord) a tennis court. We bought a little tiny house and the end of a little tiny road. We also have a little tiny mortgage. I look out the kitchen door, and there is a trail right into the woods just two steps away. Our house got smaller and our world became huge. Travel opportunities abound, there's more time to explore and ride, and contribute. This house seems almost like the coziest of luxury campsites. A shelter in the midst of this glorious neighborhood.

As I work on a new way of earning a living, I get to spend a lot of time finding my way around in this new landscape. We both try not to drive very often. The bus stops less than a mile from here, and groceries, beer, and friends are a bike ride away. And though I've lived in this town for almost 15 years, I swear, I find something new every day.

Merrin took me up Chest Heave Gulch the other day. It's just just up the road, right here in my new backyard. I've ridden down parts of it, but never up the whole thing. Up is the key word. And ridden is said with air quotations. I pushed my bike. A lot.

Almost two hours to get to the place where, as Merrin said, "we have officially left the planet and are in the Shooting Stars." The meadow was ablaze with them, and I was agog. Shooting Stars look like little pink orchid flowers and I've never ridden though so many of them before. There was also Paintbrush, and Ninebark, Columbine galore, and Golden Banner. Golden Banner makes me sing that Golden Grahams song and it played through my head all the way down The Very Much a Secret Trail That Sadly, Isn't Much of a Secret Trail Any Longer that leads back to home.

I usually prefer to ride alone. I like to follow what I think might be a trail or what looks like it used to be a trail, or where I think that maybe I see faint tracks and hope that I find some glorious single track that for that day, is mine and mine alone. Tom said that if I die before him, he's going to carve "I wonder where this goes" on my headstone.

I followed one of these hey-that-kind-of-looks-like-a-trail trails a few months ago in the half forest service half mining claims land across the road. It led to a whole bunch of gravity pits that someone had forged in a linked trail of old mining test holes. I don't skateboard, but when I'm zooming up and down and around these old test pits, I think that must be what it feels like.

I didn't "discover" it, but I found it on my own and I only showed Tom, and we've never seen anyone else on it, so I feel very Sacajawea about it.

Yesterday, on the Galaxy Ride, which is what I now call the best loop ever and the one that Merrin and I did when we swooped through the stars, I was grateful for the company. We started out late in the afternoon and we hit the view just as the light changed to what I like to call Porch Light-- the kind of light that happens on summer evenings when you're out on your porch. That view needed sharing. It was the best ride I've had yet this summer. Thank you, Merrin.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Girl Walks into a Graveyard Carrying a Shovel

Nederland has a beautiful old cemetery--wooden headstones, rocks laid out in ovals to mark where bodies lie, families buried side by side, and sadly, lots of little graves. The majority of these graves are from the early part of the 1900's. My friend Jack Snyder was buried there in 2004.

Jack lived all his life in Nederland. He was 83 when he died. Born two days before Christmas and died on Halloween. He drove himself to the hospital.

Jack owned Snyder's Garage which was next door to the coffeehouse Tom and I used to own. The garage was a functioning service station in the 40's,50's and 60's, but when I knew him, the building was empty except for most of his mom and dad's stuff, several old cars, all in mint condition, and a bunch of junk my dad would have killed for. What I always think about when I think of that building was his collection of Amaryllis plants and his mom's geraniums which must have been at least 50 years old.

Jack visited that garage every day. I think it was like going to his job. He puttered around, fixed things that may or may not have needed fixing, watered his plants. He kept the place looking neat and spotless. And on every holiday, he hung out an American flag. I remember one fourth of July, someone stole his flag. Jack, though, refused to believe it had been stolen. "I think some kids just borrowed it so they could march in the parade with it," he told me. A lesson in spin that I use quite often when the ugly parts of humanity get the best of me.

The garage had smooth metal roof, and every year he'd paint some kind of silver coating on it. He'd never ask for help, and I used to send Tom over as soon as I saw the ladder go up on the side of the garage. One day we got there a little too late, and Jack was already up on the roof, wearing a brand new pair of red Converse All-Stars. He said he got them for the grip they gave him when he was up there. The image of him on his roof in those red shoes will, I hope, be forever in my brain.

Jack took care of things. He had two white Ford Taurus wagons, absolutely identical. He drove one one week, and the other the next. On weekends he drove a late model convertible. It too was white. I saw him in Boulder one day, crossing the pearl street mall on 13th street, top down and Tony Bennet blaring of the stereo.

He was always well dressed. I never saw him in jeans. He had some old pants he'd wear when he worked on cars or on that once a year occasion when he put on the red Chucks. He could tell you the exact date that everything of significance (and many things that had no significance at all) happened in town. He brought me cookie recipes, and an old photo of him that was taken when he was 10 years old. He was on a donkey (named Pineapple) and the photo was taken outside of the house that was our coffeehouse. That photo is sitting to the right of me as I type this. He had a gin and tonic every night. Sometimes he had another one, too. He always asked about my parents, even though he never met them, he threw the Frisbee for my Frisbee-addicted border collie, but mostly, he took the time to visit. He'd come in the backdoor of the coffeehouse, in through the kitchen, and stand at my sink and just talk for a few minutes.

So, last week at the cemetery, I was saddened to see that his grave was covered in weeds, and the remains of cheap plastic flowers and glass candles filled with wax that had turned liquid in this 90 degree heat we've been having.

I weeded, and dug out a bunch of old rocks and put in some new dirt and planted some columbines and poppies. I've cleared a place near his feet for a lilac, a flower he loved and one he'd bring me, wrapped in a paper towel, every spring.

Monday, June 16, 2008

That's the Idea

I didn't know he was there--which is the point.

This morning while on a trail run behind the house, I stopped mid-way down the Sherwood single track to pee. I startled a deer baby whose mama had told him to stay put while she was away getting something to eat.

I walked into the woods, a few feet from the trail and as soon as I squatted down, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. It was the white-spotted behind of a fawn headed toward the creek, doing that boing-boing gait that is putting the hammer down, deer-style.

When deer mamas need to roam and graze, they camouflage their fawns on the forest floors--sometimes by pushing them down on the ground. The babies don't yet have scent glands, so they can't be smelled by predators, and they somehow know not to move til their mothers return. There are stories of well-meaning people finding them and thinking that the fawns have been abandoned and have four broken legs because they will instinctively keep their legs folded up underneath them--even when picked up by the well-meaning person-- until their mother returns and tells them it's OK to move.

Their white-spotted brown fur blends in completely with the forest floor. Combined with the fact that no one and nothing can smell them, these babies are kept very safe in a sometimes brutal environment. I have only seen one other fawn pile, and it was all I could do not to stop and stare, but I kept walking, and pretended not to notice anything. I may have even whistled...

I didn't see this one, and apparently squatted right down next to it to pee. I like to think that he didn't go far, and that his mother was very close, and when she came back to that place she left him, she didn't have to worry too long before he boinged out of an aspen grove and back to her.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ask a Farmer

Usually I work in back yards. Last week was four new raised beds: winter and summer squash, (beloved curcubita), beets, brocolli, carrots, turnips, a pile o' potatoes, and tomatoes in pots on a sunny porch. There was a little kid running around, and five hens. A creek runs through a park just behind the yard. A pretty nice office for the week I was there.

I occasionally help out a friend with her landscape/gardening business. This is often front-yard work, and it's always interesting to note that everyone talks to you when you've got your hands in dirt. They don't just say hello as they pass, they stop, talk about flowers, or trees or weather. I read in last week's NY Times Magazine about a woman who works with the guerrila gardenig project in London. They are a group of vigilante gardeners who beautify public places--abandoned tree strips, round-a-bouts--with flowers and shrubbery. She said the only time strangers talk to her in London is when she's gardening.

I also read somewhere that having your hands in good dirt releases in your body the same kind of endorphins that chocolate and sex release. Does seeing someone work in the soil trigger things primal and innate in us? Is that what gives most people a need to connect with me (or anyone) they see digging holes, planting, weeding, watering?

I know when I'm at the Farmers Market, I feel like I can ask the farmer advice about anything. I always try to get a little free plant education from whoever is working the stand, but I also feel I could ask and receive good advice about car trouble, ankle pain, why my brakes on my bike are rubbing...They just seem like they'd know. Maybe it's because when you're outside, working in the earth, you have a lot of time to think. Your work is food and beauty. You toil in providing basic needs: water, sun, healthy environment, food. Easy to understand and absolutely necessary. I think just watching someone plant a flower triggers the dirt reflex.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


From Wikipedia

Thigmomorphogenesis is the response by plants to mechanical sensation (touch) by altering their growth patterns. In the wild, these patterns can be evinced by wind, raindrops, and rubbing by passing animals.

Touch. I love the sense of feel. I can't garden with gloves, I mix meatloaf and pie crusts with my hands, I once got a double case of 2nd degree burns when I couldn't resist grabbing two fist fulls of soft white sand that had somehow appeared in our dirt driveway. The "sand" was freshly dumped ashes from the wood stove.

Last week I spent a few nights with my 90 year old grandparents. My grandma is slowly going blind and her bones are stiff from years spent ranching, raising family, doing things the hard way. She's always been the cook in the family. She's never owned a stand mixer or a food processor. She cooks by feel. She baked 20 pies for my wedding. She baked them by herself, in one day. She used her hands and a fork to make butter and flour into crusts that people still talk about when our summer-camp style wedding comes up.

Now, she feels for her way around the house. She walks close to walls and her hands slide along, around corners, over counter tops. Her hands are beautiful. And when I think of them, my mind goes to how they feel in my hand--bones and vein--delicate with these amazing strong nails she's always had. How they look never pops into my mind before they way they feel does. I've always held her hands. And I'm not a hand-holder. But I can sit next to her and hold her hand all day.

When I attempt to lay out my small list of accomplishments, I think of things I've shaped with my hands, things I've touched and made better. Times I've handed someone something they really needed, times I've made a meal, dialed a phone, cleaned up a mess. Why does "homemade" sound kind of simple and precious, but "handmade" sounds like quality?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Taking Care

From the essay Death and a Wedding by William Kittredge, dedicated to Pat kittridge and James Welch

“There will never be a simple program or set of programs to help us serve and preserve glories, but it might be useful if we heard more about the rewards of taking care – stories about humor, attentiveness, and flexibility—and not an endlessness of the self-righteous combat stories we now get from our anxious culture. Stories about the arts of building fortresses, revenge, and triumph are every time about divisiveness and semi-suicidal in an increasingly interdependent world. We can decide to dedicate ourselves to taking care. Many do. It’s said to be like learning an art.”