It all begins on a fall Friday afternoon. The weekend is chock-full of Taos sites for the soul. Registration includes meals and site entry fees for the Saturday and Sunday tours. If you’re unable to join us Friday, we look forward to seeing you first thing on Saturday morning at Hacienda de los Martinez. 2018 […]
In Perseids’ wake
the edge of summer first looms,
clad in August’s haze.
Thoughts of summer sports
– games lost and won, and picnics,
and ev’ning sunsets.
The school desk awaits
as reluctant minds set forth
on another quest.
Basking as reptiles,
our last fling, we find ourselves,
at summer’s sweet edge.
I’m always amazed at those slabs of ancient
tree trunks that show how time passes.
A seed fell and sprouted and took root.
Maybe in 1492 or 1215.
There was a drought. There was a fire.
There were good years and bad.
My ancient Juniper tree lives on at the back
of a my mostly unused piece of land.
Its age gives it a certain distinction.
How old can it be?
I named the tree Carlos Rey for it surely
once belonged to the King of Spain.
These trees grow slowly in the high desert.
They experience things that we never notice.
Once they get a good start, a toehold, they
can go on for centuries.
Carlos Rey was twig when Coronado and
the Franciscans camped just down the hill.
Other old trees nearby show old jagged scars;
ax marks where a shepherd or soldier
stole a branch for firewood or shelter.
Even the scars are ancient.
Carlos Rey went unnoticed and unscathed.
Endurance and survival are the keys.
Carlos has seen good years and bad years.
I think we must be in what will be known
as bad years when some future scientist
ponders our age – our rings.
I see no small Junipers – only ancient ones.
The climate seems angry and uncooperative.
Life is precious. It has a memory to share.
There’s a man in Sussex who counts the rings
of a Stradavari or a Montagnana or
a Matteo Groffiller.
With years of practice, and in the right hands,
the old tree rings sing with the voice of angels.
* * *
To Whom It May Concern:
As a cat owner, if that term can be used, I have become aware of a certain aspect of the Feline Operating System (FOS) that seems in need of an upgrade or at least a patch. The FOS has five main operating modes: Exploration, Observation, Expectation, Anticipation, and Procreation. For the sake of household tranquility, the Procreation module has been disabled in many domestic house cats but remains functional in those residing in feral status. Although there may be some hand-wringing and consternation about certain aspects of the Procreation module, that has nothing to do with my current letter of concern to you. There is also a sleeping or resting status that has some bearing on the other FOS modules and my predicament.
There seems to be at least a sequential hierarchy in the FOS based on my observations.
The Exploration module seems to be the first to kick in whenever a cat is introduced into a new household. This sometimes takes several days and during that time the cat seems to be largely invisible. In fact, the cat is not invisible but selects a particular hiding spot, a vantage point for exploration of the premises when the resident human or humans are not awake. I know this because the dish of cat food is empty, there is evidence left in the litter box, and my kitchen cabinet doors are open when I get up in the morning.
The Observation module is the next stage, based on my experience. The newly introduced cat will make its presence known and will carefully observe the human activity in the household. This module is the backbone of the FOS and the one most often in use. The cat will position itself in a location where it has unobstructed sight lines of household activities. In some cases, this will be on top of the refrigerator or the middle of the kitchen table. The cat seems to be programmed, or hard wired, for watching from an elevated position. Human attempts to modify this behavior are met with opposition on the part of the cat and are sometimes accompanied by retribution in the form of scratching on upholstered furniture. The human or humans soon learn to ignore the elevated observation position as much as possible. The cat soon learns every aspect of the human routine from feeding, sleeping, waking, resting, bathing and grooming, and even waste disposal. The Observation module seems to provide data, stimulus, and a feed-back loop for the Expectation and Anticipation modules.
The Expectation module is triggered when the Observation module sends a message that the human is preparing to do a specific task or that the cat has a basic need for food, water, or waste deposition. This module allows the cat to invoke pre-learned responses to events happening around it. When the human picks up car keys the cat will wait respectfully for a pat on the head which soothes the human as he or she leaves the premises. This is most commonly followed by the cat going into sleep or resting status. There seems to be a special function built in for hairball expulsion, but this is a less common and occurs at night and on the human’s bed. As you may recall, I’ve written to you before on this particular issue but your response (“A cat’s got to do what a cat’s got to do”) was somewhat unsatisfactory.
The Anticipation module is also triggered by input from the Observation module. It is similar to the Expectation module but with a higher degree of intensity and speed. For example, when the doorbell rings the cat will automatically go into this module based on behavioral cues learned from the humans and its pre-learned responses. In some cases, the cat might revert to the Exploration module and become invisible to all but the trained human eye. In some cases, the cat might become stalled in the Observation module. In many cases the cat’s movement will become swift and erratic and accompanied by a tripping episode or some other loud encounter with the resident human. There are many other examples of the Anticipation module coming into play, especially around the human’s feeding time or other expected activities. The cat will respond quickly to certain cues such as the human shaking the edible cat treat container. Cat treats, once dispensed as a gratuitous gift by the human, will occasionally be reciprocated by the cat with some form of dead household vermin or pest left in a conspicuous place as a gift for the human. These gifts, and occasionally the expelled hairball, will elicit a loud reaction by the human the next morning.
Of particular concern, and the reason for my letter, is the FOS and the cat’s failure to anticipate and respond to Daylight Savings Time (DST). It would seem to be an easy fix to adjust the FOS to spring forward or fall back on the appointed days. My telephone and laptop computer have this figured out. True, I must go and adjust my clocks twice a year and replace the batteries in smoke detectors, but I would think that something as sophisticated as a cat behavior module would be easily adjusted based on the calendar setting. My cat insists that I wake up and perform all my tasks and bodily functions on its pre-learned schedule rather than the DST clock-time that governs my work and relationships with other humans. The cat is slow to adjust to the DST schedule changes and can be downright obnoxious, especially in the morning when I hear slamming of cabinet doors, upholstery scratching, and the sound of hairball expulsion as I’m trying to get a few more minutes of sleep. Licking, biting and pulling of my hair is not welcome at 7 AM, at least not by an irate cat. So, in closing, I respectfully request that you take this respectful suggestion and my plea on the part of cat owners everywhere and provide a DST fix to the FOS at your earliest opportunity.
Most Sincerely Yours,
A Cat Owner
One of the things I struggle with sometimes, and what my New Year’s Resolutions always try to address, is showing gratitude. I’m not the best at showing gratitude and when I do it seems contrived and fabricated as often as not. It doesn’t come naturally, and I don’t always know where to draw the line with expectations of other people. When is gratitude appropriate and when is it gratuitous? Huh… Isn’t it odd that gratitude and gratuitous come from the same Latin root word: Gratus – meaning “grateful“ or “pleasing”? Gratuitous morphed into something like “free” or “without expectation of benefit” and then, after a while, to “unwarranted”. Gratuity – as in a tip to a waitress – tends to retain some of the original meaning.
Um…But let’s get back to the topic of gratitude. (You see how my mind wanders, right.) I don’t consider myself to be an “ingrate” because if that was the case I probably wouldn’t even recognize my dilemma. I have seen and reacted to other people treating waiters, attendants or employees very badly when some expression of gratitude was called for. I’m a pretty big tipper in restaurants and bars because I’ve seen some deplorable patron behavior in this regard. That doesn’t seem to be the issue. I’m more uncomfortable with showing gratitude in closer or more personal relationships.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a brief class/lecture on “Exploring Gratitude” offered by a local Rabbi. This was unfamiliar territory for me as I’ve never been around a Rabbi except unknowingly maybe on a bus or simply in a casual encounter. This was a Rabbi doing Rabbi stuff and it was a woman Rabbi on top of that. My little traditional Lutheran head was prepared to spin but I came away with some very thoughtful and helpful ideas. There were about forty people in the room and the session was a somewhat interactive experience.
There’s internal gratitude and external gratitude and we most often think about external expressions of gratitude. That’s what comes to mind when out in the public world. Saying thank-you when someone opens or holds the door or tipping might be common and casual expressions. But what about internal expressions of gratitude. Part of the discussion focused on some Old Testament phrases from the Book of Isaiah or other passages that brought home the concept of being grateful internally and to oneself. In most cases it isn’t exactly a gift from God to have a roof over your head, clothing, ample food, the most recent iPhone, and a Lexus…those are details. Instead, we are given certain gifts and talents and endowed with the means to put them to good use. An intellect and a recognition of right and wrong and how to interact with others. Maybe God has a hand in that broad stuff or maybe it’s good genes and good parenting — you can be the judge. We can be grateful for waking up in the morning and for the gifts and talents that we have found within ourselves or have been revealed by others. The Rabbi’s talk partially focused on chanting as a personal practice of gratitude and before long she had forty people chanting in Hebrew with only a slight understanding of what was being said. This was a practice of mindfulness and most of the reactions were positive. Some of the discussion that followed compared the chanting to meditation or Tai Chi which I and a dozen or so others in the class were familiar with. When I practiced meditation (I was an early practitioner of TM) and Tai Chi I experienced a certain healthy, clear headedness that brought some lasting clarity to my daily routine. I was more responsive and open with other people. Over the years I have gotten away from regular practice and this session and discussion served to remind me of some of the self-gifted expressions of internal well-being – self gratitude. Okay – this might be part of the path that I’m seeking at least on the internal part.
So, let’s say (or pretend) my internal issue is solved. What about external expressions of gratitude to family and friends? This would usually be a face to face encounter requiring an expression of gratitude. My usual approach is to assume that this is implied by my behavior or actions but there’s no guarantee that the other person sees it that way. We go through life thinking we have all our bases covered but maybe we are not perceived in the way we think. When I was working as a program manager before I retired my employer would occasionally require us all to go to various inspirational sessions or participate in team building exercises. Sometimes these would require an assessment by subordinates of the manager’s style or relationship with employees. I was usually disappointed and realized I was not always perceived as I thought I was…as I tried to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the most common outcome of those exercises – that managers perceived themselves differently from the employees’ perceptions — but it was still bothersome. We can be oblivious to our relationships with others. I don’t recall ever asking my wife, now deceased, if she was truly happy in any direct way over the thirty-plus years of our marriage. We relied on the other’s verbal or nonverbal clues and we had an exceptionally strong friendship and loving relationship. To me, at least, it was an obvious deduction based on behavior and verbal expression. I see my daughter at least once a week and we are very comfortable together and typically don’t have discussions or expressions of gratitude. We do things for each other unasked and those actions typically pass without any expression of gratitude. That’s how we roll…so to speak. My point, and the nagging little stone in my shoe, is that we should probably be more explicit in our relationships and our gratitude.
I have a friend, a retired school psychologist, who lives 1,000 miles away and we often spent time together before I moved to New Mexico. Now we speak by telephone a few times a year and keep track, but months pass between our conversations. I recently heard from her when she was in a minor crisis. It was minor to me but major to her. She inherited rental property in St. Louis and the furnace stopped working. In the dead of winter, she had tenants in a house with no heat and no idea of how to fix it. She was panicking because she lives 200 miles away and can’t be on hand to deal with the problem. I have several good friends in St. Louis, where I grew up, and made a few contacts and got recommendations for repair companies. I passed that information on to my friend and she reported back that the problem was solved and thanked me for the recommendations. This took probably no more than an hour or two on my part. I didn’t think much of it and was glad I could help. A few days later I received a greeting card in the mail with a gift card for Starbucks and a thank-you note. What a nice gesture of gratitude. It was, maybe, a little over the top considering my investment of time and effort but I helped solve a problem that was very stressful to her. Her expression of gratitude had more to do with her relief in resolving the crisis and her hope and expectation that I could be of help. She is relatively new at this landlord situation and she wanted to be responsive to the tenants’ problems so that was also part of it.
So that is where I am with this. I’m not sure I’m closer to my goal of showing gratitude but maybe I can work on it with a fresher perspective. Maybe I analyze too much but that little stone in my shoe tells me I need to be more aware of opportunities to show gratitude where it is due. At any rate, maybe I’ll take up Tai Chi again. First, I think I’ll go to Starbucks.
* * *
I was born only a few short miles from the Father of Waters. The Mississippi River is a constant presence in my psyche and my memories; always changing, always flowing, never exactly the same. It scoured and flooded our history. It was a demarcation line – so wide that there was us and there was them. You could barely make out a figure on the opposite shore. Were they really there? There were so many stories.
It could be beautiful, or it could be fearsome. I remember joyful summer days on the deck of the huge excursion boat watching the shoreline and the city glide past. The big ship’s engines vibrated as it made its way through the strong current. The river’s cliffs were made of red brick. Tow boats pushed barges up the river. There once were old warehouses that held cotton and furs – and a licorice factory. The old bridge made of granite and iron was built to last 1,000 years and it just might.
I lived as a boy near the confluence – where two great rivers flowed together. This is where Lewis and Clark, and a dog named Seaman, began the trip of discovery. This is where we ventured out, across the winter ice, to explore an island in the river. The island was big and wild, positioned where the Missouri River made a long, last bend toward its destiny. I remember the trees…massive trunks soaring skyward with piles of driftwood from ancient floods braced against the trunks. There were Snakes.
Still later I lived in sight of the Missouri River, named after a local tribe… the People of the Big Canoes. This was near the farthest reach of French settlement in the old colonial days. The river stretched clear to the Rocky Mountains. Some of the river’s water comes from John Colter’s Yellowstone and the old pathfinder was buried near here, on the south bank, not far from the edge of civilization in 1813. The sand glitters with promises of Colter’s mountains: grains of Granite, Jasper, and Rosy Quartz.
Now I live on a hill sloping to the Rio Grande del Norte, called so by the early Spanish. The same river is called Rio Bravo in Mexico. My Keresan Pueblo Indian neighbors say “mets’ichi chena”, maybe the oldest name, meaning Big River – Rio Grande in Spanish. The Rio Grande is a trickle by comparison to the rivers of my youth, but it is the lifeblood of the desert. Looking across the valley there is a broad forest of ancient cottonwoods following the river south toward the sea. We would not be here without the river.
The Navajo call the river “Tó Baʼáadi”, meaning Female River; the southward direction is given a female distinction among the Navajos. So, I have lived alongside the Female River as well as the Father of Waters. The current flows in my veins and I am anchored in the river.
* * *
If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward. — Martin
Look not too fondly to the past;
Its charms are sweet but do not last.
By hastening to that Siren’s song
we’re on a path forever gone.
If we should ere be great again
the way behind is History’s bane.
Our future road climbs straight defined —
the path is forward, not behind.
Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.
– John Newton