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.

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

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.