Five Years as Woman Alone

Richard Cabe (1950-2011) ogling wildflowers

Five years ago today, at 11:07 am, Richard Cabe, the love of my life and the father of my beloved step-daughter, Molly, took his last gulping breaths. I still miss him acutely, though not every moment and not with the sharp pain of that initial parting.

After five years, the missing him is more like a dull, nagging ache, a bruise in the part of my heart our nearly 29 years together live. 

It’s not that I’m not happy as Woman Alone; I am, by and large, something that is a continuing surprise to me. That happiness is partly my temperament, and partly a stalwart determination to forge a good life with what is. Even if it’s not the life I imagined stretching out for many more years together, Richard and I walking hand in hand into the sunset of our years. 

That wasn’t what we got. I accept that, and I have consciously worked to not pine for what isn’t, and more so, to recognize doors opening that wouldn’t have opened–or I wouldn’t have recognized as opportunities–in that other life where we lived hip to hip, inseparable. Until death parted us.   

Five years… It’s a good time to evaluate the path I’m on, where I’ve been and where I’m going. 

I’ve taken several big leaps in that time, including finishing and selling Terraphilia, the house he built for us, along with his historic studio next door. 

Helping design and build Creek House and Treehouse, my snug little complex that occupies the last piece of our “decaying industrial empire,” as Richard liked to call our sprawling and once-ugly property.

And now, in perhaps the biggest leap of all, I’m moving on, leaving Salida and the place we shared, the property we spent our last 15 years together restoring. The buildings were Richard’s province, his studio and the big house, which he helped design and did much of the construction himself.  

Richard assembling “Matriculation,” his sculpture in the Steamplant Sculpture Garden, in front of his historic studio. (He designed and built the rolling crane for working with ton-size sculptures and rocks.)

The land was mine, the block of channelized, neglected urban creek, and the property itself, its river-bench-gravely soil scraped and “enriched” with industrial leavings, and then abandoned to invasive weeds. 

As his hands shaped and set brick and stone, steel and glass and wood; mine dug and weeded, planted and watered, nurturing soil and plants.

So while he is gone, his body and spirit cycling on to whatever is next, and I am moving away, there is a sense in which the twining of our lives with that physical place, our sweat and cells, the effort and lessons and dreams, the love we put into soil and stone, will remain. 

The we that was–a “we” that included Molly and her time in Salida–continues in the way that blighted chunk of land and creek now flourishes, green and healthy, home to songbirds and pollinators, browsing deer, mayflies and muskrats. In the buildings that rise from the soil, sturdy and cozy, designed to shelter many generations of families and stories. 

And the “I” that is, me, this Woman Alone at sixty, now moves on to the next chapter of her life in a new place, a landscape that has held my heart since I can remember first using the word home.

Northwest Wyoming calls. I feel the pull in my cells and synapses, in my heart. 

Five years today. As I sit in the sun in a cozy casita in Santa Fe near the end of an astonishingly productive writing fellowship at the Women’s International Study Center, I am grateful for the gift of this month-long time to simply relax and write. It is exactly what I needed right now. 

The sun-splashed window seat where I read and write…

Grateful for the five years it has taken me to absorb the wallop to the heart of losing Richard. For the 29 years we had to love each other before that. 

And now, I believe I truly am ready to move on. 

Wednesday, I drive back to Colorado; come late January, I’ll be home in Cody again after decades away. 

Richard and his beloved Salida, the valley and the peaks, our restored industrial property, will come along with me. Not in the physical sense of course. In the form of memories, of singing muscles and sweat, of frustration, inspiration and the joy of seeing the buildings, land and creek revive. As love. 

Those years are part of the person I know as me, imbuing my heart, mind and spirit, and also my muscles, synapses and bone. And–this shouldn’t surprise me, but I hadn’t expected it–urging me to look for new opportunities, to embrace the twists and turns in the path ahead. 

Five years, and I know it is time to go. To whatever’s around the next bend. 

Thanks for walking with me on this journey. Bless you all!

Photo by Santa Fe photographer Robert Muller, who understands light and shadow, and has more patience than I do! 

Windshield Time: Hitting the Road Again

This Tuesday afternoon, Red and I will head west on US Highway 50, bound for Olympia, Washington, for a family gathering over Labor Day weekend. It’s a 1,450-mile-drive on the route I’m taking, and I don’t like to drive more than 6 hours in a day, so it’ll take me a few days. 

Along the way, I’m stopping to visit a former writing student, Julie Weston, and her photographer husband Gerry Morrison in Hailey, Idaho. (If you’ve not read Julie’s absorbing new mystery series, here’s my review of the first book, Moonshadows. The second book, Basque Moon, was just published and got great pre-reviews.)

Saturday noon, I’ll pick Molly up after she flies into SeaTac airport from San Francisco and we’ll share the drive to Olympia together, always a treat. I’m fortunate: she likes to hang out with me, and I her; and like me, she loves a good road-trip.

Me and Molly on a road-trip in southern New Mexico in February

After the extended weekend with the extended Tweit clan, I’ll take Molly back to the airport and then set off to my next stop, The Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch in northwest Colorado, where I’ll spend time working in the interpretive garden Richard and I designed  during our residency at Carpenter in 2010 and 2011.

(Carpenter Ranch was also our first stop on The Big Trip, our last real road-trip together, two months before Richard died.)

And then I’ll head home for three days, long enough to do my laundry, give Red a rest, and meet a couple of writing deadlines, before loading up and hitting the road for Chico Hot Springs, Montana, where I’m speaking with Lauren Springer Ogden in Rocky Mountain Gardening’s annual Live! event.

By the time Red and I make it home late on September 21st, I figure I’ll have driven about 4,700 miles in a bit over three weeks.

Why drive thousands of miles cris-crossing the West? I could fly to Washington, for instance, and still meet Molly. It would be a lot more efficient use of my time in one sense, and would keep me from being so crunched on writing deadlines, and on preparing my talk and digital presentation for the Rocky Mountain Gardening event. I could also fly to Montana, saving myself about 1,700 miles of driving on that leg. 

Partly it’s the time versus money equation. Flying means spending a lot more cash than driving, because when I’m not staying with friends on the road, I’m sleeping in my cozy mini-camper in Red, often in some very discrete parking spot that costs nothing. 

Partly it’s that the timing of these various events allows me to make a two-branched road-trip through some of my favorite parts of the West. And of course, visit friends along the way, which I couldn’t do if I flew. (Thanks to Julie and Gerry, and Jay and Connie Moody, who I’ll stay with when I pass through Cody on my way to Chico Hot Spring.)

I’ve always loved a good road trip. When I drive, I get to follow my own schedule (within certain constraints). 

There’s the element of serendipity: I never know what I’ll discover. What junction might lure me off the main route; what wildflowers will be blooming, which hawks soaring in lazy circles overhead. Who I might meet, what cafe or vista or trail I might discover. 

Heading west on US 50 between Gunnison and Montrose, Colorado. How could you not stop and take a hike among those pinnacles?

Road-trips through the West’s open spaces are great “windshield time” for me, time for my mind to wander, for connections to surface and ideas to grow out of the spaciousness around me. 

I can happily drive for hours and miles in silence, watching the landscape go by, my imagniation wandering, or listen to my iPhone playlist, which ranges from Sting to Dar Williams, and from the haunting a capella of Anonymous 4 to Bonnie Raitt’s hard-rocking blues. 

And partly it’s the time of year, which has me itchy and restless, wanting to hit the road. Richard’s 66th birthday would have been in mid-July. August 8th and 9th (yup, there’s a story there!) were our 33rd wedding anniversary. And my 60th birthday is coming up soon. 

Just after Richard’s 60th birthday, when he was feeling great and we were hoping brain cancer was behind us, we learned his tumors had returned; he went under the knife for his second brain surgery that August. A year and three months later, he died. 

Richard Cabe, swimming in the ice-cold, swift waters of the Arkansas River on his 60th birthday. 

So as I head west on US 50 Tuesday afternoon, I’ll have all of those things in mind. And then I’ll let the rhythm of the road and the hum of Red’s tires carry me along. And see what the miles bring…