A Fork in the Road

Schoolmate shot in the head by another — playing with a rifle…

That was my first encounter with gun deaths as a kid. Absolutely preventable. There would be more — friends or relatives of friends. We are at a fork in the road. Fifty-eight deaths at a concert. We have been here before but we always take the wrong path forward. That path only leads us to another ugly fork in the road and we always take the wrong path forward — deeper into the abyss of gun violence — fork after fork after fork. We don’t have the guts to take the right path because the wrong one is the familiar way…we don’t know what we will find on the right path and there are forces at work that keep us from going that way. We seem to be running in circles but it is a straight path downward.

Coworker’s son accidentally shot and killed by his father in a hunting accident.

That was my second encounter with gun deaths…some years later. Very sad, devastating indeed, and truly an accident. About one-third of Americans own firearms. About half of that number own only one or two guns. Many are hunters who are careful people when handling their firearms. Accidents happen but not all that often. Many are also sport shooters who are drawn to competitions or enjoy target shooting as a hobby. They are also very careful and usually shoot in a safe and controlled environment. I am technically a gun owner because I own a black-powder flintlock pistol that I once used in target shooting almost thirty-five years ago. It hasn’t been fired in over thirty years but I keep it in a safe place. Hunters and sport shooters are not the problem — but could be part of the solution to the gun problem in America.

Staff member’s young brother shot and killed by a confused and fearful security guard.

My next encounter with a gun death was absolutely preventable. He was a young black kid, a pre-teen, playing where he shouldn’t but was viewed as a threat by a startled security guard. The boy was with friends and they were doing what kids do. Somehow there was confusion in the dark and the security guard had a gun and used it. Guns are everywhere and fear is a great motivator to use them even when there is no real danger. About 3% of Americans own half the guns in this country. That’s somewhere around 180+ million guns. The average among that group is seventeen guns but some own many more. So many more that the average for all gun owners is somewhere around eight per owner. Some of those gun owners are legitimate collectors. Some might be legitimate gun vendors. Some, maybe more than some, are compelled by fear or some misguided notion of paranoia. I had a neighbor who pulled a gun on a fellow driver in a road rage incident. He was usually a calm person and not excitable but something happened that made him think he needed a gun. Then something happened that made him think he needed to use the gun. No one was hurt in the incident but a short time later it turned out he had a brain tumor. There is a lot of fear pushing people to own guns, mostly hand guns, and most of it is unwarranted.

A close friend and colleague gunned down by a white supremacist when he answered the front door.

My fourth encounter with a gun violence death was not that long ago. A good friend and colleague  was killed — they call it “assassinated” because he was a government official — by a white supremacy nut job who apparently acted on orders from an Aryan Brotherhood cell. The case is still open though the shooter was killed in a car chase. Someone put him up to it. There are crackpots and gun-crazy people and criminals and mental cases who should never have access to a gun. Kids should never have unsupervised access to a gun. The more guns we have the more they are circulated and end up where they don’t belong. About a half-million guns are stolen in this country every year, from private gun owners or from gun shops. Last December two guys stole a large Ford truck and drove it through the wall of a local gun shop and stole “several” guns…the number was not reported. They got away with the guns and have never been apprehended. About 1,600 guns are stolen in America each day. As gun advocates like the NRA pressure state legislatures to roll back gun possession and control laws the theft rate in those states increases. The guns fall into a black-market pipeline that funnels them into cities with stricter controls. A gun is stolen every minute in America.

A former coworker’s husband, a law enforcement officer, shot himself in the head on a quiet day on a quiet street for no apparent reason — a suicide.

A person bent on committing suicide will often find a way to accomplish it unless there is some intervention. Having a gun handy will speed things up — no intervention possible. It often destroys more than one life.  I live and grew up in a middle class community. I had the benefits of being educated and gainfully employed non-stop for 36 years. I mostly lived in “white” neighborhoods where one would not expect a great deal of gun violence. I know more people who died from firearms than I know who died from traffic accidents. I’m sure my experience with gun deaths is almost nothing compared to the experience of someone living in a ghetto or barrio or a gang controlled neighborhood.

Double homicide — jilted guy shoots and kills his girlfriend and her husband as they come out their door to go to work…an ambush killing.

This happened two doors away from my daughter’s house in a small town in rural Missouri. Gun violence is not just a city thing. The guy got away and was finally caught several hundred miles away. He had a gun and thought it was OK to kill people and figured he could get away. If he didn’t have the gun he wouldn’t have been waiting in the dark to squeeze off a couple rounds into his “problem” people. He wouldn’t have considered that to be a solution to his problem. There are about 310,000,000 guns in America with more added every day. We need more guns like we need a hole in the head.

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It Must be Spring

The weather has been perfect the last week or so and I’ve made some headway in my outdoor chores. The rock garden (AKA Rabbit Salad Bar) is looking better and I’m planting more aromatic plants that rabbits won’t eat. I discovered the Curry Plant at my local pueblo nursery. It has a strong curry aroma from the leaves and it can be used in cooking but it is actually part of the daisy family. It looks a little like lavender or rosemary but gets small yellow flowers. I have lavender, Mojave Sage, Yucca (red), and Agave in the rock garden right now along with the curry plant.

The goldfish pond is looking better but still needs a lot of work. As best I can tell all of my goldfish survived the winter. The pond never actually froze solid. Right now I have too much vegetation in the pond and need to remove about 60 percent of it but that is going to be a major effort. I’ll need to hire somebody to help with that. (ca-ching).

The storage building roof has been repaired — good for fifty years they say. I won’t have to ever do that again. I repainted the doors and the wood trim but it needs a little bit of stucco repair in the back…local critters must have tried to get inside. I’ll patch that up for now. Eventually the house and storage building will need to be re-stuccoed as well as the garden wall. Big bucks for that.

Rabbits are at it again. We will have a bunch of babies. I’ve seen more coyotes the past few weeks than I can remember. They tried to lure my neighbor’s dog away, a big dumb pit-bull, and he was happy to go but the neighbors were able to corner him in my back yard and take him back home. Coyotes have sort of a Lorelei effect on dogs…they lure them away and they eventually become dinner. My lizards are lined up like soldiers on the rocks and the garden wall soaking up sun. Roadrunners will get them later in the season but they seem to be having a couple weeks of peace.

My quail are back in droves again. They seem to be all paired up — no bachelors calling for a mate. Sometimes the women are fickle and will keep looking for a better match but things seem settled. We have Gambel’s Quail and Scaled Quail and the two can hybridize. Gambel’s have a dark plume on their head like a California Quail. Scaled Quail have a scaled feather pattern and a white tuft on their head. No babies yet that I’ve seen but the pairs keep running back and forth across the road in front of cars like it is some sort of game. They only fly in an emergency or if the car is getting too close.

No hummingbirds yet…at least none that I’ve seen. My flowering plants are still a month away from full bloom so hummingbirds are hanging back or visiting the valley orchards further south. I have never been able to tell the species apart — we only had one type where I used to live but there are six or seven varieties here.

Goldfinches are here in big numbers. I’ve noticed quite a variety in them as well. It might be different types or it might be that some birds are changing to summer plumage at different schedules.

 

The windy season came and went. Tumbleweeds were flying and bouncing down the highway. I have a few tumbleweeds that I need to get hauled away along with some overgrown sagebrush and four-winged saltbush that are encroaching in various places. Shortly after I moved here I was bragging to my neighbor about the pretty green shrubs I had growing along the fence. They were bright green and had a uniform rounded shape…nice I thought. He informed me that I was growing tumbleweed. It gets thorny and brittle as it matures and then snaps off at the base and spreads seeds by rolling along in the wind. I sheepishly pulled up my pretty green shrubs.

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Nevertheless, She Persisted

malalaPersist_zpss3lpdzjzSometimes our language fails us in both words and concepts. My wife had a term she applied to some people she admired for their persistence and tenacity: “stick-to-it-ive-ness”. Not exactly the most elegant of terms but it conveys the concept, in her mind, better than anything else. I was, on a couple occasions, the recipient of that honor but perhaps fell short more than a few times. She certainly had that quality about her and outlasted my puny capacity quite often.

Men seem to value the sprint while women go for distance. There is something that seems almost as a biological and intellectual capacity in women to move on, ever forward, in an undaunted manner. Our species would have slithered into oblivion without that quality.

Down through the ages. with few exceptions, men have held the power. Men wrote the Bible and the Koran and other religious texts. Women made the ink. Men told the history of nations and sang songs of losers and winners. Women made the beer and carried the water. Men heaped praise and glory on their heroes. Women saw them all before they had their morning coffee. Men pranced off to war in fancy uniforms. Women bound up their wounds and cared for their orphans.

Only in the last decades of the 19th century did women begin to extricate themselves from constant servitude. Women were legally oppressed under English common law and the concept of coverture. Once married, a women essentially became part of her husband and ceased to exist as an individual. If unmarried, she could own property and conduct business and enter into contracts but not as a married woman. That power and authority resided in the husband. If you think back to the decades around 1800, it is largely single, unmarried women who stand out as writers and artists.

KEN7Men, for the most part, were perfectly content with the old customs and didn’t see a problem. Everything was fine…a well oiled machine. Why change? Some men still don’t get it. Surprisingly, some women don’t get it. But, nevertheless, they persisted. Women have made progress and have come to claim, inch by inch, equality with men in many fields. There have been setbacks and ongoing battles. There have been grave sacrifices.  Nevertheless, they persist. My daughter enjoys rights and freedoms that her great-grandmother never dreamed of. We are talking of a span of about 100 years of slow and persistent progress. Women still have a way to go even in what we would consider our enlightened western culture.

In other parts of the world the struggle is just starting or is taking a slightly different path. Progress won’t look the same everywhere. I don’t advocate for many non-profit organizations or projects but I do stand behind the ideas and efforts of The Girl Effect. There has to be a starting place…if doors won’t open, use a window.

 

 

 

 

 

The Shadowed Wall

The Shadowed Wall
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What lives were once protected
behind these shadowed walls?
What joys were shared and hopes declared
and private pains endured?
What voices spoke to say a prayer or
comfort childhood fears?
What buttons sewed?
What wondrous weavings wove?
What feasts enjoyed? What cheerful toasts proposed?
What missing friends or long-lost parents mourned?
Like brushstrokes on canvas, these past lives
paint shadowed lines on old forgotten walls.

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A reflection on a visit to Plaza del Cerro in Chimayo, NM

 

 

A Transitional Season

The wind has picked up today and is so strong that the birds and small animals have taken cover. We are transitioning into the fall season but summer doesn’t want to let go. We are still in the last tattered shreds of our Monsoon season – it has rained almost every day this week. The Monsoons should have ended a few weeks ago but they got a late start so we are thankful for the lingering rain.

The wind is poking around in every nook and crack. I can hear it protesting in the chimney because it can’t come all the way into the house. I always have windows open, even in the dead of winter, so the wind is finding another way to get in.

chamisa-1The Chamisa is in full bloom so the sometimes dry and dreary desert landscape is cloaked in bright yellow. I’ve never seen it so thick and bright…but this is just my third year in the desert so almost everything is still a surprise. Chamisa is our Spanish name for the local variety of what some people call Rabbit Bush. If you have been out west you have probably seen it. Ours is usually small and neatly clumped as if someone tended and trimmed it every day. The rabbits, of which I have many, do not eat it but tend to hide among the clumps. The quail do the same thing.

chamisa-3

Fall, and October, means two things here just north of Albuquerque: Balloon Fiesta and the arrival of the Sand Hill Cranes.  The Balloon Fiesta is the first full week of October (including both weekends) and we will see several hundred thousand visitors pour into town. It is a beautiful time of year anyway and the 800 hot air balloons add to the color and delight. They have mass ascensions every day and on most days they fly to my neighborhood and land all around me. So far no one has landed on the house but they are in all the vacant land around me. They have an interesting procedure each morning…they send up a “Dawn Patrol”, five brave balloonists with flashing lights on their baskets just before dawn to see what the conditions are. If they are good then the other 800 will go up…if not they postpone or cancel the mass ascension and try to locate the five guinea pig balloonists.  It reminds me of the videos I’ve seen of Penguins in the Antarctic that shove a couple Penguins into the water to see of the Leopard Seals are waiting.

balloons

The arrival of the Sand Hill Cranes is a little later in October but almost as spectacular. Most of them continue south to Bosque del Apache wildlife area but we have a resident population of several hundred just in my area. They are noisy birds and you most often hear them before you see them. If they are flying overhead you might not see them at all in the dazzling sunlight. When they are roosting near the river they sound like croaking frogs. I went to a Christmas event one year and the birds almost drowned out the carolers trying to sing Silent Night. At this point we still have a few hummingbirds but they will be gone soon. I had a falcon sitting on my garden wall earlier in the week hoping to grab a dove or maybe even a hummingbird.

I made a last-day-of-summer visit to our botanical garden. It seemed tired and a little worse for wear. The summer was exceptionally hot and dry from June to August. By the time the rain arrived most of the flowers and plants were too far gone. There were a number of bright spots and the Japanese Garden is always pleasant. They installed a special rose garden featuring roses that do well in the desert climate.  The roses looked pretty good in spite of the weather. The “Heritage Farm” section, a replicated Rio Grande valley farm, was selling apple cider from the apple orchard.

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I’m doing some garden work of my own. When you landscape your property with native plants they don’t always know that they are supposed to stay where I put them. Being acclimatized to the desert and doing what comes naturally, they send out little volunteers everywhere. If I left it alone I’d have a jungle of sorts. That’s what I had when I moved here and it took over a year to get it under control. The previous owners planted Russian Sage, a pretty plant but one that sends out root runners and then one plant becomes ten plants and then thirty plants if you don’t keep it under control.  I also have a 1,500 gallon goldfish pond that needs frequent care. I have sixteen large fancy goldfish and it is pretty to look at but also can get out of hand. I noticed the water level was too low a few days ago and started filling it with the hose. Something happened and I got distracted and then had to go someplace. The hose ran for about ten hours and when I realized what happened I had more than a foot of water above the normal level. Goldfish were swimming where no fish has gone before. It was still contained but the pond will not need any additional water for quite a while.

watson-2Watson, my elderly cat and almost constant companion going back sixteen years died this summer. He is often missed when I work outside because he stayed close and was a watcher, not a doer. In his entire life he caught one vole that I know of and a few lizards. He never quite understood the goldfish and was puzzled by the very idea that something could live under water. I miss him also when I write because he would curl up on a rug close by and fall asleep or watch out the door for anything interesting. He was also a snorer. I’ll find a new cat at some point but not for a while. Watson was on medications twice a day and that required me to stay home unless my daughter could take care of him. I’d like to do a little travelling before I get another cat.

watson

So now we are looking at changing seasons. We have a nice long fall season going up to late November or early December. Nights will be cool and there might be an early frost but daytime temperature will be in the 60s into the first week of December. This windy cold snap is a hint of what is in store – they say it will be down to 41 degrees tonight. We don’t have many of those golden Aspen trees – they are up in the mountains or farther north in Colorado – but in a while our Cottonwoods will put on a show to rival the Aspens.

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Well, I think I just heard that the wind blow away my watering can so I have to stop and retrieve it.

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Sounding

sounding whale 2

 

A whale, torn deep by the harpoon

and roped to the hunters who would bring it down,

sounds deep into the darkness. Escape is the first impulse…

deny them of their prize.

 

At four hundred feet the pain is still there. At six hundred…deeper still.

At eight hundred something gives…changes for the better.

The surface calls… The hunters wait.

Breach…. And plunge again. They are gone.

 

I plunge.  I sound the depths.

The pain is there but not like it was.

The scar persists but the wound is healed.

And yet, the memory is sharp.

 

I plunge. I sound the depths. I breach.

Humpback Whale Breaching @ Sunset Composite Se Ak

 

It was written that I would love you

Eight years is a long time. This week, eight years ago, things changed forever as “We” became “I”. Losing a spouse or any loved one is life changing because you live in your memories. There is a huge cavity that looms all around you and it must be filled with something so you fill it with grief.

As with most of what I encounter, I found myself looking at grief in an analytical sense. It is profound sadness but not depression. The sadness is so deep that it will change the chemistry in the brain for a while.  It can become your new partner if you let it live and take root in the cavity. It is not so much a friend as a familiar companion…”Oh, there you are again”.    Over time it blends in to the background and you don’t pay much attention to it. Sometimes it goes away but sometimes it is there, standing in the corner or looking out from a crowd.

In my case it is mostly gone except it creeps back a little  during the last week of July. Something triggers it. You notice the calendar. You see a picture. You hear a song.

I was playing some music in the car and Paul McCartney’s “Calico Skies” came on. It is a simple song — he calls it “primitive”– but in it’s simplicity lies an empowering truthfulness.  There is some joy in it. The song was written during a hurricane imposed blackout in 1991– by candlelight and guitar. Written in 1991 but not released until 1997. Linda McCartney became ill in 1995 and died of cancer in 1998.

Calico Skies — by Paul McCartney

It was written that I would love you
From the moment I opened my eyes
And the morning when I first saw you
Gave me life under calico skies

I will hold you for as long as you like
I’ll hold you for the rest of my life

Always looking for ways to love you
Never failing to fight at your side
While the angels of love protect us
From the innermost secrets we hide

I’ll hold you for as long as you like
I’ll hold you for the rest of my life

Long live all of us crazy soldiers
Who were born under calico skies
May we never be called to handle
All the weapons of war we despise

I’ll hold you for as long as you like
I’ll hold you for the rest of my life
I’ll hold you for as long as you like
I’ll love you for the rest of my
For the rest of my life