Land Connection

I recently started reading the book Hard Light, by Michael Crummey.  I’ve read other books by Crummey and I like his style and his themes. He writes about small town Newfoundland and he writes historical fiction. The interesting thing about Hard Light is that it is a collection of family vignettes, short stories that last one or two pages, peppered with reproductions of photographs of tough people in tough places having tender moments caught in a moment of living a tough life.

Photo by Dieter Kühl on Unsplash

What speaks to me from these pages is a universal sameness between people in small towns everywhere.  No matter the culture or the landscape, we are all the same in our hearts. On the surface our wants and needs may seem very different but underneath there is more similarity than difference.  One way to explore this theme of universal sameness is through stories that cut deep into the everyday fabric of our lives.  When I read about a Scottish-born fisherman off the rocky coast of the North Atlantic Ocean, I can also picture a Hispanic sheepherder in the high country of northern New Mexico.

One of the common themes is open spaces. Historically the land in the lower San Luis Valley of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico has been open to common use. Before the Spanish traveled to the area in the 1500’s, the Native American nomadic tribes roamed the land following the herds of buffalo, antelope, elk, and deer.   Their way of life was threatened by missionaries establishing small colonies of settlers in plazas connected by travel routes. Only a few Spanish stayed in the area, discouraged by hostile native tribes trying to re-establish their territories, but the legacy of Spain remained and was carried on by farmers, ranchers, traders, and others coming north from Mexico.

Land grants were established without benefit of fences and barriers. Moving herds of sheep or cattle from winter to summer ranges and back again was generally accepted.   Later, with the arrival of European colonists lured by the railroads and promises of homesteads, adventurers from eastern states, and capitalists looking to establish towns and commerce, fences became common and land grants were usurped. Keeping people from their ancestral grounds or traditional grazing and hunting lands became contentious, sometimes fought out in the courts and sometimes fought out in private, personal conflicts involving angry words, guns, and sometimes sabotage.

Today, some 400 plus years after the Spanish first came to the San Luis Valley, open space is still valued and protected. Sheep herding, albeit in smaller numbers, is still practiced in the old tradition. Cattle are moved back and forth from mountain range to valley floor (still nearly 8,000 feet above sea level) usually in small herds. The lack of vegetation and water mean that livestock needs a wider range of land in order to be successful.

Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range from the San Luis Valley

There is something sacred and timeless, going back to the very heart of the land, being able to look across the land for fifty miles or so of clear vision and few or no barriers.  A fence only mars the view. As the Newfoundlander looks across the ocean in all kinds of weather and rejuvenates his soul, so does the rancher in the San Luis Valley look across the rolling land to the mountains in the far distance and fill his heart up once again.

Telling Stories

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

Some of you may be wondering what my blog is all about, why I’m writing it, and why should you read it or care.  I believe that the basis for all human connection and understanding can be found in the stories we tell and the stories we read.

The history of what went on before us, when rendered in a deep and personal way, can reveal to each of us the soul we were born with and have buried along the way. History can direct the roles in our lives that we choose or are chosen for us.  History can give us tools in the form of knowledge and understanding that we need to interact with the world.

For most of my life I buried my soul in order to “be” what and who I thought I should be.   What kept my soul alive during this dark time were stories.  Reading books allowed me to shift into a world that was different than my own. I could be anything, do anything, live in any place on earth or outer space, or even dark within the earth through the characters, places, and events I read about in books.  As I grew older I got curious about the people who wrote these books. I wanted to write books! I wanted to know about the authors and how they came to bring these worlds and characters out on paper.  From there grew my love of words and putting words together. I entered the world of non-fiction and wrote hundreds of thousands of words.  But always there was the story, the history, waiting in the wings to be heard, interpreted, invented, and told.

So this blog is really an extension of my belief: The basis for all human connection and understanding can be found in the stories we tell and the stories we read.

My goal is to give you the tools and inspiration to explore your own stories, whether that be through fiction, poetry, non-fiction, or other creative avenues such as song, dance, and art.  The world needs you to tell us who you are and what you love.  And in turn, show us why we should love it too.

So if my posts seem a little scattered at first glance, look deeper for the underlying thread of story. The thread of hope and inspiration and discovery of true self.  Therein lies the pattern that will make sense of it all.

Explore yourself through story!

I Wonder Where My Home Is

I wonder where my home is. The house I have lived in this past eleven years is not home although it’s a very comfortable house. This town is not my home. In a land so tied to Hispanic Catholic roots, the people here seem to measure their ties to the land in centuries, not years. I am not a Colorado native although I have spent more than three-fourths of my life in Colorado. I have lived in three states and countless houses and apartments. But none of that feels like home. So, what, then, do I call home?

Not long ago I read a quote that really hit to the heart of the problem: “If you don’t feel it, flee from it. Go where you are celebrated, not merely tolerated.” Paul F. Davis, an author and motivational speaker, is the man this quote is attributed to. It suddenly occurred to me that I have been restlessly moving around to different locations where I don’t belong almost as if I am trying to prove I am not worthy of being in a place where I am loved and celebrated. It’s a hard concept to wrap my head around, but that about sums it up for me. My current location is the culmination of all these many years of feeling like I don’t belong, don’t fit in, and certainly only deserve to be tolerated.

Another thread that popped up while I was contemplating this thought is the genealogy that I have been working on in an effort to understand my family history and roots. It seems that beginning in the mid 1800’s, both sides of my family became restless and nomadic in their own searches for a place to belong.

My ancestors on my mother’s maternal side lived for at least 200 years in Norwich, Norfolk, England. Then my great-grandfather moved his family across the ocean to Canada. After talking to one of his brother’s descendants, I learned that all the family in England ever knew since 1915 was that one of the brothers moved to Canada. They had lost touch. Even though the family was Anglican, they ended up in Cardston, Alberta, which was a small prairie town settled and occupied by Mormons. They did not fit in and after a short time they moved to Vancouver, B.C., and then later to High River, Alberta. On my mother’s paternal side, my great-grandparents were living in Michigan in the late 1800’s and got the urge to travel by covered wagon across the country to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, where my great-grandfather and his brothers homesteaded and began farming. My grandfather was four years old. After a very short time, after they discovered they were on land that had formerly been reserved for Native Americans but had recently been reclaimed by the US Government, they left and made two attempts to homestead in Alberta. The homestead at Reid Hill is where they finally ended up.

On my father’s side it was a little more direct. Both sides were in the Georgia and Mississippi area prior to the Civil War. Both sides had men who served in the Confederate Army and after the war both sides relocated to Texas. My grandparents lived on neighboring farms and met and married in the panhandle. After a few years they moved to Arlington, and then to Alberta during the 1950’s oil boom. They traveled back and forth between Texas and Canada for years before retiring to Texas in the late 1970’s.
So I wonder where my home is. I’d like to think I could live anywhere but that’s not true. I lived on the east coast of the United States and missed the dry climate of Colorado. I lived on the plains in the mid-west and missed the mountains. There have been only six years of my life I could not see the Rocky Mountains (either Canadian or American) or the current mountain ranges I live between, the San Juan Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo Peaks. Somehow I think I need mountains.

It’s easier to be a global citizen these days. Travel is quick and relatively easy and affordable. Information on any place in the world that one could want to live is readily available on the internet. Travel guides abound. I long to move to the city of my dreams but it is out of reach. And, is it home? I don’t know, I have never lived there.

I found out quite recently that when my grandfather was doing aerial surveys in 1934 he had a lake and a mountain named after him. They are somewhere above Whistler, BC in the Chilcotin Range. I have seen the photographs and mapped their location. I’ve never visited but someday I will. It may not be home but it’s the one place on earth with my family name on it and may be the one place on earth I would truly feel at peace and at home. I have yet to find out.

May you and your family be blessed in 2018. And if you haven’t found it yet, may you find your home at last.

Warner Lake, Chilcotin Range, BC

My Relationship With Golf

My grandfather, my father, and all of my father’s brothers belonged to the Derrick Club in Edmonton, Alberta, in the 1960’s.  To me, it was where I took swimming lessons and watched curling matches, and where golf was played.   There was a series of jackets to be won depending on how good you were at hitting the ball and keeping your score as low as possible. I don’t remember the jackets but I remember my grandfather and father competing to see who would get a gold jacket first.  I don’t even know which of them won but I suspect it was my grandfather because he was just a little bit smarter, a little bit better, and a little bit more aggressive than my father ever was or could be.

Before I learned to play golf I got my first job at JF Kennedy Golf Course in Denver, Colorado, where our family had moved in 1968 after selling out of the oil business in Edmonton.  My father was the groundskeeper and I was 14 when I started picking up balls on the driving range and putting them in buckets to sell to the golfers on the weekend.  I earned a small amount for every bucket I assembled. I don’t remember the amount now, but I think it was around 50 cents a bucket.  The golfers would pay for their bucket of balls, practice their swings, and then I would go back out and pick up the balls.  I had a golf cart and a helmet and a long kind of tube made to reach out of the cart and scoop up the balls.  Usually I would pick the balls up after hours, sometimes by hand instead of with the cart.  But if the driving range was popular and we ran out of balls, I would go out in the cart with my helmet, dodging balls, and picking up the ones that had landed.

The next year I graduated to putting golf carts away at the end of every day and filling them with gas for the next day.  I parked carts at both JF Kennedy and Wellshire Golf Courses before I learned to drive a car.  It was the equivalent of my father at 12 learning to drive a tractor long before he was old enough to get a driver’s license.

I am grateful for both of these jobs, my first two paid employment opportunities obtained with connections through my family.   After all this immersion in golf, at age 16 I thought I should learn how to play. My dad was working nights so I signed up for golf lessons in PE at my high school.  The first thing I learned is that it’s very hard as a left-hander to learn golf from a right-hander.  That’s why my father never seemed to have the patience or knowledge of how to teach me to play the game he loved so much.  He got me left-handed clubs and, as it turned out, the instructor at school was left-handed so that worked out okay for me although I never warmed up to it.  Ironically, the other kids in the class who were right-handed had trouble with the left-handed instructor.  Eventually my dad came and helped the right-handed students when he had the time.  It was a win-win situation. By then my dad was a golf pro and teaching golf on weekends.  His scores were consistently under par and he was unhappy if he made par. I remember how happy he was when he beat “The Golden Bear”, Jack Nicklaus, playing in a tournament one time.  Of course my dad had a handicap differential while Nicklaus was a scratch golfer, but it didn’t change the excitement of being able to say my dad beat Jack Nicklaus!

Golf never was my game.  I didn’t continue playing past high school even though the incentives were there.  I’ve never excelled at games where calculating trajectory was key, like pool, golf, or football.  Looking back I think I missed an opportunity to connect with my dad on his terms.  Would we have been closer if I had put more effort and interest into the game he loved, and still loves so much?  My left-handed clubs are still somewhere in my parents’ garage, gathering dust. My father is now 86 years old, and I have never known him to miss a season of playing.

Forty Reasons Why I Write

I’m taking the 40 Reasons “Why Do You Write?” Challenge by Bryan Hutchinson.  Can I come up with forty reasons why I write?  The first eight or so seemed easy; the rest required a little digging.

At first glance forty reasons seem like a lot! But I’m up for the challenge. Thanks Bryan! So here goes.

  • I write:
    1. To fulfill a childhood dream
    2. To inform
    3. To educate
    4. To be heard
    5. To affirm
    6. To be affirmed
    7. To laugh
    8. To make other people laugh
    9. To claim my spot in the company of other writers
    10. To dream
    11. To practice
    12. To ask
    13. To tell my stories
    14. To tell my family’s stories
    15. To tell the stories of the people I love
    16. To tell the stories of the places I love
    17. To reconnect with old friends
    18. To make new friends
    19. To create beautiful images with words
    20. To inspire myself
    21. To inspire others
    22. To think of new ways to say old things
    23. To find my way
    24. To help people think in new and different ways
    25. To release anger
    26. To bring closure to difficult issues
    27. To bring clarity to difficult or confusing issues
    28. To resolve anxiety
    29. To get published
    30. To make a living from my own talents and drive
    31. To be my own boss
    32. To have other people read and react to what I write
    33. Because it’s what I’m good at
    34. Because writing raises my self-esteem
    35. So that I can help other write better
    36. To live life twice – once in the doing and once in the telling
    37. To give voice to social needs
    38. To say something important
    39. Because I am happiest when I am putting words to paper
    40. So I can call myself a writer

Putting this list together was invigorating, empowering, and made me take a good hard look at the reasons why I write.  If you would like to take the 40 Reasons “Why Do You Write?” Challenge by Bryan Hutchinson, go here  http:/positivewriter.com/reasons-why-write-challenge/ and get started!

Breathe

Breathe

I think breathing is something we take for granted. It’s something that your brain tells your body to do and we inhale and exhale without thinking much about it unless we are underwater or in some other way deprived of oxygen, and then it becomes something we have to think about consciously.  And so, while I was aware for a long time that I had the symptoms of sleep apnea, I thought I was getting a good night sleep and doing just fine even if I was annoying other people with my horrible snoring.

Two years ago I suddenly began to go downhill.  I could no longer focus on tasks set before me. Multi-tasking was impossible, something I used to do with ease.  Moving around became more difficult and I gained weight.  My feet took on a dusky appearance and I blamed it on my socks and shoes rubbing off dye and staining my feet.  Only the tips of my toes were pink – a straight line across the top of my foot.  My ankles swelled.  And yet none of this alarmed me, I had an excuse for everything.  That is, until my yearly blood test revealed an elevated red blood cell count that had reached into the dangerous levels.  And I remembered the lab technician having trouble drawing the blood which was thick and didn’t flow well into the vial.  In the middle of filling the tube my blood simply stopped flowing.  She ended up having to start a new draw in my opposite arm in order to fill the vial.  What I thought was some error in procedure turned out to be a symptom of my problem.

After my doctor read the results, she began actively searching for reasons my red blood cell count was so high.  The first step was to check for apnea, so she ordered a night pulse oximeter test.  Overnight I wore a device on my finger to check on my oxygen levels as I slept.  The results revealed that my oxygen was dropping into the 70 to 80 percent range at certain points in the night. My pulse was dropping as low as 34 beats per minute.  To clarify that this was apnea, I took part in a sleep study where I slept in a lab at the hospital and was wired up with every possible kind of monitor and also observed by trained specialists as I slept.  The session was recorded.  About half way through the night the technician shook my shoulder and said I had been identified as someone needing continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment.  A mask was fitted on my face and I was hooked up to the CPAP machine and I slept the most refreshing sleep I had had in years.  After a doctor reviewed all the results of the sleep study, it was confirmed that I had apnea up to 40 times per hour, and was never getting to a level of deep sleep even though I wasn’t aware my body was waking me up every minute or less than a minute to remind me to breathe.  I had both obstructive apnea, where the airway becomes blocked, and central apnea, where the brain forgets to tell your body to breathe.  All these years I could have easily died in my sleep and no one would have known why.

Fast forward to now. It’s been a year since I have been using the CPAP machine every single night and I’m doing better in so many ways. My red blood cell count is back in the high normal range, I can enjoy reading again and concentrate on tasks that had been eluding me.  My ability to walk and exercise improved and so did my weight. My feet are normal color again. After two years of being acutely aware of my breathing, I have learned not to take breath and oxygen for granted.  I live in a high altitude area (8,000 feet above sea level).  But even those of you that don’t have environmental or physical challenges to your breathing should pay attention to it.

As we are on the cusp of a new year, make a decision to raise your consciousness by concentrating on every breath you take in and breathe out.  Spend time in non-polluted areas such as the outdoors so that you are breathing in fresh air un-laden with chemicals, heavy metals, poisons from emissions from industry or buildings.  If you smoke, quit.  Don’t let those chemicals you are drawing into your body alter your ability to wholly participate in life.  Don’t let smoking shorten your time on this earth.  When you concentrate on breathing you will increase your overall level of focus, emotional stability, and level of consciousness.

Whatever creative path you follow, you will benefit from increasing your mental focus.  You will have a better understanding of yourself and concepts that once seemed difficult to understand will become knowledge you can easily grasp.  You will have more clarity about yourself and the world around you.  You will improve your life.  Make 2017 the year you start to improve your life, simply by breathing.

 

Compassion

Reynisifjara and Reynisdrangar, Iceland. Photo by Martin Falbisioner

Here are three things you can do now to improve the quality of your own life by consciously improving how you interact with other people.

Set a positive example for others. Maybe you do this without even thinking about it, but what if you were to consciously make the decision to set a positive example?  A lot of parenting advice revolves around setting an example for your children and being a model for how you want them to be as they grow up.  But do we follow this advice in our everyday interactions with others?  It’s been proven that kindness rubs off.  Even a smile can brighten the day for someone who is hurting, wrestling with deep issues or problems, or just absorbed in their own “stuff”.

While you may already treat other people with kindness, do you do the same for yourself? It’s important that you treat yourself with kindness.  Accept and love yourself for who you are.  Your view of the world and your place in it will shift significantly if you realize that in the current moment you are doing the best you know how.  Don’t beat yourself up about yesterday or the future. Tell yourself, “in this moment I am doing okay, I am handling this.”  You may find it hard to accept yourself and love yourself if you are dwelling on the mistakes you’ve made, the situation you find yourself in, when the past looks unforgivable and the future looks bleak.    Count your blessings.  What do you have in your life right now that blesses you?  What are you capable of, what are you good at, what blesses you?  Focus on that.

Act with compassion, always. Shift your mental focus to the other person. Act out of pure love.  This is not easy if you are used to thinking about yourself and how something or someone affects you, but if you practice it every time you are interacting with someone, it will start to come naturally.  Think, “how is this person feeling? How is this person reacting to the situation? What can I do or say to help them through it or feel better about themselves?” Then act accordingly.  Not everything that happens in this life or everything said to you is meant to hurt you.  Sometimes the other person is the one hurting and just needs to be heard.

To become more mindful of yourself and your impact on others, to affect other people in a positive way that shows understanding in a world where you would also like to be heard and understood, step back for a moment and practice these three concepts.  At first people may not be able or willing to see the change in you. They may not trust the “new” you or think it’s just a phase.  But if you are consistent and willful in your desire to change how you interact with other people, you will see a shift in how they interact with you and, like a chain reaction, how they treat the other people in their lives.

Compassion
by Miller Williams

Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.

From The Ways We Touch: Poems. Copyright 1997 by Miller Williams.
Used with permission of the University of Illinois Press.

Unusual Solutions

I’ve never passed a kidney stone but I’ve heard it’s very painful.  A friend of mine once passed one the size of a grain of sand, and in his words, it was the most excruciating pain he had ever felt.   I hope I don’t have to have that experience, but it’s nice to know that recent research has discovered that passing a kidney stone might be a lot faster and less painful if you take a ride on a roller coaster.

I believe it! First you have the long slow climb up to the top of the track, and then the brief hanging seconds when you are anticipating what comes next, and another few seconds when the roller coaster begins to drop, picking up momentum and throwing everyone into a heart-stopping, jaw-clenching scream as you barrel down the track.   If not a heart attack, why not a kidney stone?  According to the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association,  research on kidney stones and roller coasters began after a patient reported passing a stone while riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster at Walt Disney World.  The scientists built a 3-D model of a kidney complete with kidney stones and tested their model on both front seat and back seat rides.  Those in the back seat passed nearly 4 times as many stones as those in the front seat.  So, I guess if you have a small kidney stone and want to avoid the stress and cost of surgery, going to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Walt Disney World might be a more fun and less costly option.

What does this have to do with writing?  Have you ever written an article, paper, or story that felt like passing a kidney stone?  So painful you wish you could avoid it, but so inevitable that it’s going to trundle its way through the small narrow path to its final destination?  And doesn’t writing sometimes feel like being on a roller coaster? The long trudge uphill as you fight procrastination and the need to start putting your words on paper, until you finally get to the crest…hit your stride and plummet full force into your writing, forgetting time and space until you reach the end and the car pulls up short, the attendant unlocks the bar, and you stumble a little dizzy into the rest of your day.   The message I take away from this is to keep on writing even though you may feel like your story is being pulled from you like a kidney stone, excruciatingly slowly, because the high you get when you top the hill and find your stride will cause that story to dislodge itself from your inner being onto the page and into the light and there is no better feeling than being able to look at your work in front of you and exclaim, “What a ride!”  The ache inside of you is gone for the time being and the next time you are struggling to get your stories out and heard, it won’t be so painful if you remember to strap yourself into that roller coaster car and hang on for dear life.

Photo courtesy of Brandon Wholey 2004
Photo courtesy of Brandon Wholey 2004

A Determined Kid

royal-typewriter

A determined kid can achieve most anything he sets out to do. I consider my early writing years to be those between the ages of four and nine when I placed my index finger on my first Royal typewriter and “published” my first poem on a piece of paper easily 20 years older than I was.  This singular act was thrilling beyond what I could have ever imagined. The thrill never left me.  I was a poet.  I was a writer.  The poem, about a dog chasing a fox, was a flop.  Forced rhymes, mundane theme, poor word choices.  But it wasn’t so much the actual poem that made me a writer, it was the act of putting the words on paper, arranging them in a way that was pleasing to me and said what I wanted to say, in a way I wanted to say it.  All the learning of parts of speech, sentence construction, figurative language, tense, structure, and all those other things, were still in my future.  Here’s how it unfolded.

I was visiting my father in his office, a gray shack in the middle of a field.  Technically it was my grandfather’s “field office”.  My grandfather owned and managed oil fields and my father fixed derricks.  A multi-purpose place, mysteriously filled with machinery, tools, cabinets, and dust, it provided plenty to capture the attention of a youngster. But of all the things to do and see, I was drawn to an older model shiny black Royal typewriter sitting on a battered wooden desk. In the desk drawer was a sheath of paper in a notebook my dad said was left over from his college days.  He showed me how to feed the paper and pound the keys to make ink appear.  And I had to pound the keys. Lucky for me I typed with one finger so the long stalks that attached the keys to the letters did not mash together as they did later on when I learned to type faster. Beaming with pride I displayed the poem to my father and he said it was good.  Hearty praise from a man of little words.

Ray Bradbury once said “Run fast, stand still. This the lesson from lizards. For all writers.” I hadn’t read those words yet, but I believed they were true.  Write as though your life depended on it.  Write fast and often. Write everything that was in your heart and you would surely find your calling.   When you write quickly without stopping to edit you are writing from truth.  You are writing from the heart.  Editing can come later. Style can come later.  Don’t stop to look around or, like the lizard, you will become someone’s dinner.