One Nation, Indivisible & Renovation


I first heard about the Indivisible movement from my 88-year-old dad in January, not long after I moved to Wyoming. In our weekly call–he lives just 15 minutes from my brother and sister-in-law, but I still check in almost every weekend, since Dad lives alone and is legally blind–I asked what was up in his world. 


“Well,” he said, “three gals from Panorama [the senior community where he lives] and I visited our Senators’ offices to talk about our concerns.” 


“We’re using the Indvisible Handbook,” he added. “And following their recommendations about how to communicate with our members of Congress.”


I hadn’t heard of Indivisible then, and as Dad filled me in about the grassroots movement, my mind leapt to the Pledge of Allegiance, which as a child of the public schools, I recited every school-day for more than a decade:


I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, and with liberty and justice for all.


(That’s the version adopted in 1954; the original version was shorter, especially the final clause, which read simply, “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”)


Within the next couple of weeks, Wyoming Rising, the group that formed out of the Cody Women & Allies Rally, adopted the Indivisible Handbook as its guide for action. I’ve been impressed by the speed with which the movement has grown, and its effectiveness in getting out the message of fairness, of liberty and justice for all.


The name “Indivisible” is brilliant: for its simplicity, its evocation of the patriotism in the Pledge of Allegiance, and for its reference to what is a founding concept of this democracy of ours: we are “one nation, indivisible.”


Indivisible. n. Unable to be divided or separated. 


No matter our religious, cultural, racial or political differences, we have more in common as human beings, as citizens and residents of these United States, than not. At heart we want the same things (though not necessarily in the same order): good lives for ourselves and our families, love, jobs, comfortable homes, religious freedom, education, a healthy environment, financial security, health care, a future that looks bright. 


It seems to me that we are most likely to achieve those things if we work together, instead of fracturing on lines of ideology and politics.


I am reminded of the Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn quote on a Solstice broadside sent out by Clifford Burke and Virginia Mudd of Desert Rose Press


If it where only so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and if it were only necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?



None of us are perfect. None of us have all the answers. But together, we can do great things–for all. 


*****


On the house restoration front, it’s been a busy week. Probably the biggest change is that the weather was balmy enough that Jeff Durham, my contractor, was able to work outside and remove the carport addition that turned my front entry into a dark and forbidding cave. 



The front entry before, with Jeff up on its flat roof (which didn’t drain and thus had begun to rot). My front door is back there in that dark hole. 



The front entry after, with my new front-door patio exposed (room for the cluster of pots sitting on the lawn, plus perhaps a stock-tank planter full of tomatoes and basil….). In the morning, the sun now reaches under those eaves and lights the kitchen. 



That now-sunny kitchen, with more door handles returned to their original copper shine (29 handles done, 14 to go). 


Tree-removal work commenced as well, thanks to Aaron Danforth of Arbor Solutions Tree Care, beginning with the big spruce that was threatening to fall on my living room and dining room. For those who hate the idea of removing trees, let me reassure you: When Aaron is done removing three mature spruces, seven Rocky Mountain junipers, two sick European Mountain Ash, and one green ash tree split almost to its base, I will still have a mini-forest of five huge spruces, three crabapple trees (which will have space to breathe and grow), one green ash and one honey-locust. 



(That’s Aaron halfway up the big Engelmann spruce, removing limbs. He’s a rock climber who took to tree work.)


Inside the house, we’re replacing plumbing fixtures that barely work with new efficient ones (one toilet done, two more to go), and, in the most visible development, Shantel, Jeff’s daughter and also mother of his adorable toddler grandson, Jayden, is painting in between mom-ing and school (she’s working toward a nursing degree). 


This weekend Shantel finished the fussy work of painting the kitchen wall above the cabinets “Cloudless” blue to match the wall oven and microwave, and painted the end wall of the adjacent breakfast nook in the soft yellow I picked to go with my vintage metal cabinets. 



(Art on the left-hand wall by Salida printmaker Sherrie York; mandala by Tommy Williams of Riverton, Wyoming; vintage table from Connie and Jay Moody of Cody;  jonquils from Kerry and Dave Nelson of the former Ploughboy Local Market in Salida)


And then she really got on a roll and painted two of the living room walls with that same yellow. (“They Call it Mellow”–you have to love color names!) Between the new paint and removing the horrible brown drapes and hardware, the room looks bigger, lighter and brighter. 



Next week, Jeff will install the insulating roman shades that are currently lying on the floor, and then start framing in the space in my bedroom that will become a small “en suite” bathroom (so when I’m old, I won’t have to share the main bathroom with my live-in companion…). 


Did I say that I love my house? And that it’s satisfying, healing and downright exciting to help bring it back to life?


I am grateful–to be alive, to be home again, and to be involved in so much positive work, my writing, this house-restoration project, and in speaking up for the earth and my fellow humans. Bless us all!

That Balm in Gilead


There is a balm in Gilead

To make the wounded whole.


There is a balm in Gilead

To soothe a sin-sick soul.  


Those lines in my favorite spiritual are running through my head tonight because I sang them Sunday morning at the early service at the Episcopal Church.


(Some of you are probably saying, Whoa! What’s a Quaker doing at an Episcopal Church? Well, there’s no Quaker meeting in Cody. The Episcopal Church is in walking distance, and boasts really glorious music thanks to music director Jim Hager, plus insightful sermons by the rector, Rev. Mary Caucutt. And I have good friends in the congregation.)


This last was something new to me, a hymn-sermon service. No words from Rev. Mary, who always seems to say something I needed to hear. Still, as Warren Murphy, the previous rector, and Jim talked about each hymn, Warren interpreting the history and meaning of the words, and Jim the music, I found myself fascinated by these new perspectives on familiar verses and melodies.


And then when we got to the final hymn, There is a Balm in Gilead (click to listen to one particularly good choral recording), my whole spirit just lit up. What I love about this spiritual that has become a hymn is that refrain. There is a balm in Gilead… 


There really is a balm in Gilead. (I realize there’s a metaphor about Jesus as the balm, but I like to know real-world truth under the metaphor.) The balm is an fragrant ointment made from the resinous sap of a small tree called Gilead or Mecca myrrh (Commiphora opobalsumum). The tree, native to the Mideast around the Red Sea, is in the same family as other small desert trees species that produce Frankinsence, Myrrh, Copal, and incense.



Botanical illustration of the tree, and its leaves, flowers, and fruits from an antique German flora


The sap of the Gilead tree is what has the healing properties. (It has been studied recently for its efficacy in preventing and healing gastric ulcers, among other uses.)


By now, you are wondering where I am going with this spiritual, and the real or metaphoric balm. Here’s where:


I didn’t realize, until I moved into this badly neglected house with its beautiful bones, how much I needed a balm, a project that would heal my heart, wounded from losing my mom and Richard five years ago, and freshly hurt by the bitterly divisive politics in my former small town and now the nation. 


This place is my balm. The house with its big windows and great light, the sheltering forest of too-many spruce trees it is tucked into, my restoration project in progress, my small circle of friends and the warmly welcoming larger community, and this expansive landscape studded with fragrant sagebrush, my personal healing plant–all are working to heal wounds I hadn’t realized were still aching, and to soothe my soul, sickened by the violence and hatred and mean-spirited tribalism that seem to be flourishing in our world today. 


I moved home knowing intuitively that I needed to be here, but not really sure why it felt so urgent. Now I understand: this is my balm in Gilead. 


So when I’m not writing (my current project is a feature article for Wildflower Magazine), I am continuing to work on bringing Spruce House, as I have begun calling it, back to life. While my contractor, electrician, and plumber focus on the big stuff (like building walls, making the wiring safe and functional, and installing working fixtures in the bathrooms), I’m doing smaller projects.



Over the weekend, I focused on the basement stairs. Saturday I spent about four hours filling in as many of the nail holes and gouges and I could, repeating to myself “They’re basement stairs; they don’t have to be perfect.” (And they’re clearly not, as the photo above shows!) 


Then I sanded the filler, and washed each tread and riser with oil soap. After which came priming the stairs; that took most of yesterday afternoon. And then, last night, I painted the first couple of steps with their new color: Cloudless, a sky-blue that just happens to match the vintage wall-oven in my kitchen (and the couch where I am stretched out, feet up writing this blog post, as well as my new living room rug). 



Primer coat on, still not pretty, but definitely lighter and brighter… 



And then that blue, a huge change from the filthy brown carpet I pulled off the steps a week ago. 


I’ve started installing bath hardware in the one bathroom where all three fixtures work (one of which is the beautiful granite basin Richard carved), and I’m continuing to strip the dingy gray paint from the beautiful copper door handles and drawer pulls in my kitchen.



New towel ring… 


Each task accomplished (19 handles cleaned, 24 to go…) is one more step toward restoring this house to healthy life; each is also a personal triumph. I can do this!, I remind myself as I pick up a tool or tape measure, as I scrape paint. “Tool girl” doesn’t come naturally for me; it is a skill I only learned after Richard died. So I am continually surprised and proud of myself that I can build, maintain, repair… And that the work gives me such a positive boost. 



Just look at those shining copper-coated handles!


We all need a balm in tough times, something literal or figurative to heal us and soothe our spirits. Depending on our needs and the times, that balm might be a vacation, a new spiritual practice, creative or constructive work, family and friends, a new exercise regime, a volunteer project, a resolve to eat more healthfully or sleep more… 


I am grateful to have found my balm right here in the home of my heart, in this house I didn’t know I needed, in a community and landscape I had forgotten how much I loved. 


Come spring, I’m going to plant some sagebrush in my yard. Then I’ll truly be home. 



Big sagebrush growing on the hill above my neighborhood. 

Restoration as a Calling

I've been home a month as of yesterday, a span of time that seems both impossibly short and un-countably long. Short when I think about everything we've gotten done on this house-project, and forever when I realize how familiar it is to be back. 

(Yesterday was also Molly's birthday. Happy Birthday, Sweetie!)

I walk almost the same route to the Post Office every afternoon that I took daily when I lived in Cody thirty-plus years ago, climbing the steep sidewalk up the sagebrush-clothed hillside above my neighborhood, and passing houses whose occupants I can name. (The photo at the top of the post is the view from the top of the hill.) In fact, I live in the same neighborhood I did back then. 

Of course, much has changed in my life and in the town. I am sixty, now, widowed with a "kid" who is an adult; when I left Cody for Laramie and grad school, I was newly divorced and hadn't met either Richard or Molly. Much less moved with them to West Virginia, Washington State, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, and then back to Colorado.

I've lived a whole life away from this place: I step-mothered Molly, wrote twelve books and hundreds of articles, essays and stories for magazines and newspapers around the country; I nursed my mother and the love of my life through their deaths in the same year. I finished and sold the house Richard built for us and his studio too, and built a snug house and guest studio of my own.

All of that away from the place that has called me home for as long as I remember. Which may explain why I am so happy here in the midst of a house-project I never imagined taking on, with a yard that needs even more work than the house. 

My bedroom, still in progress… That green spot on the wall is a sample of the color it will be eventually; the floors are in such bad shape they can't be refinished, so they'll be covered with reproduction plank flooring.  

I wake every morning in my bedroom with the unfinished floors and walls that need painting, and am ridiculously happy. I am home, I think. I have found my refuge, one I needed more than I realized. I also have found my calling. 

I need the place itself, the landscape that smells like sagebrush, the views bounded by mountains I know intimately because I have walked their slopes and ridges in the days I did fieldwork here. 

And I need this house, both because its beautiful bones speak to me of care, craftsmanship, and comfort; and because it has been so neglected. The house needs me and my vision (and savings!). The restoration project it represents is something positive I can do when the world is so full of negativity, a way to work forward in a time seemingly stalled by divisiveness and fear. 

Restoration as I am practicing it here is both hard physical work and metaphor. It is also my calling in life, especially now. 

Ripping the horrible and filthy carpet off the basement stairs yesterday morning, for instance, not only satisfied my inner Tool Girl–using that little pry bar to remove that which I cannot restore is amazingly satisfying!–it also gave me the kind of workout that makes my muscles sing and sends me to bed early, to sleep well and long. 

Having my hands on tools and the work of bringing this beautiful but badly treated house back to life satisfies my need to heal, to reweave the fabric of the human community, if just in this small way, in a time when we have split along bitter political/religious/tribal lines.

The work I am doing along with my contractor and his trades-colleagues isn't about red or blue or who voted which way (or didn't vote at all); it's not some kind of litmus test for who is good or who is evil.

It is simply positive work. We find common ground in tools and design, and in working hard and smart, in teasing each other, in sympathizing about kids making bad choices or aging parents slipping away. We ask each other's advice, appreciate the craft we practice, and the drive to do it well.

We talk about mundane stuff and also about more esoteric things, like what it means to be a good, caring person, and how "community" comes from "common" and means remembering that we share our humanity, that we are stronger together.  

I am reminded of the deeper meanings of restoration each time we make the decision about whether some aspect of the house is in good enough shape that it can be fixed up, or it is too far gone and must go, like that truly nasty carpet on the basement stairs.

When I finished removing that carpet and its accumulated grime. I set to pulling out the staples, tacks, and even three-penny nails (who nails down carpet?) that had held it and at least one previous iteration in place.

My trusty nail-pulling pliers, which in a previous life trimmed the hooves on my horses, and served to pry out loose horseshoe nails too…

What I found underneath was a set of well-built if battered wood stairs, which when patched and re-painted, will look inviting (instead of scary) and be sturdy and comfortable underfoot. Not art, but good workmanship. 

Imagine these stairs with the holes filled and a fresh coat of paint that brightens up the space.

To restore is to rebuild (literally as well as figuratively: restore comes from the Latin word that means "to rebuild"); in that rebuilding, we evaluate what we have, save what we can, and start over on what we can't. We work with the now, knowing it's not perfect. 

Sometimes restoration brings welcome surprises, uncovering beauty hidden beneath the surface. As with the handles on the original sunshine-yellow metal cabinets in my vintage kitchen. They are gray, and I assumed until I recently took a closer look that they were metal dulled by 60 years of use. 

Not so: The gray chipped off under my fingernail, revealing bright copper beneath. Oh my!

Last night I surfed the internet, looking for non-toxic ways to remove paint from metal door hardware. On This Old House, I found this one: "Simmer" the hardware overnight in hot, not boiling water, with a tablespoon or two of dish soap.

A handle in the process of simmering away the gray paint… 

Then simply scrape off the paint with a stiff plastic bristle brush (I didn't have a brush, so I used my fingernails), and polish. It worked! 

Two handles cleaned, polished, and reattached. Forty-one more to go… 

It seems to me that what we need right now is a lot more energy aimed at restoration–restoring our lives and communities, and a lot less polarization, anger and fear. What we have is what we have. We can't go back. 

But we can go forward with an aim to restore, to thoughtfully evaluate what we find, and then work hard and smart–together–to save and shine up what we can, and rebuild what we can't. 

We may find beauty we didn't imagine in the doing. We'll surely rediscover our commonality, what unites us as caring human beings, and that is a gift we truly need. 

Can you spot those three copper handles? They match the original copper-clad range hood.