Spring and Change

Spring is springing in my garden thanks to the huge dose of moisture from that pre-Earth Day snow, and there’s change ahead for me as well.

Uintah penstemon blooming today in my rock garden. Uinta penstemon blooming today in my rock garden, offering its nectar and pollen to native bees.

What’s up?

First, if all goes well, this will be the last post you’ll read on my current website. A new website–which will include all the blog posts currently on this one–will go live sometime in the next week or so (same URL, just a new platform).

The project has been months in the making, and wouldn’t have taken nearly as long if I had kept up. My friends who make up the programming/design/editing team have done their part, but I’ve lagged at writing new content, partly because I was on the road a lot in March and April, partly because of the infection in tooth #23, which has really zapped my energy.

The new home screen--I accidentally snapped the screen shot as the slide show was changing images.... A peek at the new site–I accidentally snapped the screen shot as the slide show was changing images….

The other big project absorbing my time now that I’ve wrapped up a season of successful habitat-gardening talks is what writer/editor/fiber expert Deb Robson calls a “French polish” of Bless the Birds. Here’s how Deb describes it (through finishing wood):

You rub the surface with 0000 steel wool and then brush off the tiny bits of wood, shellac, and steel and then coat with another dilute layer of shellac: repeat until the wood gleams gently as if lit from within.

It’s a great metaphor for the kind of fine work I hope to accomplish with this pass through my memoir.

I really thought I was done after the last major revision. Only in the weeks since I emailed the manuscript to my agent (who in one of those twists of a complex universe, never received the email), I’ve had snatches of memories float into my consciousness, small details of the sort that speak to the life Richard and I lived and the people we were. Evocative details, necessary, I think, to the success of the whole story.

Like this passage from Richard’s first-ever night in the hospital, long before we knew the bird hallucinations presaged a brain tumor that would eventually kill him:

I remember vividly that first night in the hospital when the cheerful aide delivered a dinner tray filled with food I couldn’t imagine Richard ever choosing: chicken-fried chicken buried under gravy, mashed instant potatoes and anemic canned peas; a plastic container of waxy fruit cocktail floating in sugar syrup, and another container of chocolate pudding whose ingredients, I would have bet anything, contained no actual nutritional value at all.

“I could go to the deli over on Colorado Avenue,” I said, “and bring you a real dinner.”

Richard thought for a moment. “No. I’m going to submit wholeheartedly to the treatment my doctors recommend, and that includes eating hospital meals.” He poked the slice of squishy white bread sealed in plastic next to the plate and added, “Except perhaps the bread.”

I’m five chapters in (out of 34) and feeling good about the work.

Then there’s tooth #23, lower jaw, front. It’s abscessed and can’t be fixed by a root canal. Choice number two is orthodontia and some kind of cap. Last week I drove to Colorado Springs to talk to the orthodontist; next comes another consult with my dentist to determine the final plan. The cost and time commitment are both staggering. But it’s got to be taken care of.

And it’s spring: I’ve a new website sprouting, I’m working on Bless the Birds, and my restored mountain grassland yard is beginning to bloom.

As are the annuals I just planted for pollinators in the galvanized steel window boxes I designed for the faux window that decorates the street-side wall of my house.

Real windowboxes with real flowers on my faux window... Real windowboxes with real flowers on my faux window…

It’s spring, when as ee cummings wrote, “the world is puddle-wonderful”–or here in the puddle-deficient high-desert, the air is at least intermittantly showery and smells delicious, full of life waking up.

It’s hard to be gloomy in this season of possibilities!



I didn’t intend to renovate my life. After Richard died last November, I figured I’d hibernate for several months to recover from the journey with his brain cancer, especially the last four weeks of caregiving while simultaneously learning to let go. I wanted some time to hear myself think, to figure out this new and unsought role as Woman Alone.

I thought I’d work on the next book (or books). Hah.

Luminarias light Salida’s Steamplant Sculpture Park in Richard’s memory

First there was the celebration of Richard’s life to prepare for, just after winter solstice. Like anything done with a great deal of love and thought, it took far more time and energy than I expected. It also turned out to be a beautifully moving and healing event, bringing together a crowd of people whose lives he had touched in a way that left us all feeling good–like we’d really celebrated his life and our loss.

After that was the scramble to get paperwork done before the end of the year. And then the scramble to get organized for the Terraphilia Artist/Writer Residency program we’re establishing in his honor with Colorado Art Ranch. The latter entailed taking a long look at his historic studio and deciding that in addition to a thorough clean-out and reorganization, it needed work.

The front door to Richard’s historic studio

That meant I needed to learn about construction and renovation of historic brick buildings, both way out of my comfort zone. I’m slowly learning how things work in the shop, what needs to be done most urgently, and who and how to ask for help. (Heartfelt thanks to all who have responded to those pleas!)

At the same time, or perhaps because of the renovation energy I’d unleashed in the studio, I decided it was time to renovate my web presence. Hence this spiffy new website and blog combination, which would never have come to be without the help of Bill LeRoy, friend and guru of WordPress. He understands and speaks Geek, talents I do not claim.

While all this other renovation was happening, I decided to revive the project of bringing my first book, Pieces of Light, back into print—as an ebook with the help of my virtual assistant, Lisa DeYoung). It made sense to—hah!—renovate the book, adding an update at the end of each chapter, enticing new readers with new content. Which of course meant I had to research, find a writing voice that honored the long-ago me who wrote the original book, and write those updates.

That wasn’t the writing I had planned on in what I thought (hah again!) would be the quiet months of my late-winter hibernation. (I also hadn’t planned on upgrading the operating system on my Mac laptop to handle Apple’s new iBooks Author software, another renovation which of course, wasn’t as simple as I hoped.)

All this renovating has pushed me out of such comfort zone as I had left after Richard’s death, putting me into new territory on several major fronts of my life. I suppose that’s good, though some nights between two and four a.m. when I lie awake sorting through and assimilating all of the new information, I wonder. Long and tiredly.

But here I am. Woman Alone. Who finds at the end of another day of cramming more information into my brain than I thought it could hold, and figuring out a construction problem all. by. myself. that I’m actually happy. Being me, here in the place I love, on my own.

full moon setting in the dawn skyIt helps that I have you all walking with me and cheering me on. And that I can feel Richard’s spirit smiling over my shoulder the way I did this morning when I looked out the front door and was so entranced by the luminous full moon setting that I dashed outside barefoot in my bathrobe to shoot some photos. (Did I mention the thermometer read 11 degrees F?) I think he was actually laughing then…

Learning my limits

Yesterday morning, I hopped into my trusty little Subaru Forester, the car I call “Mountain Goat” for its ability to nimbly handle seeminly any road conditions, and drove to Westcliffe, a former mining town on the upper edge of the wide Wet Mountain Valley to attend an all-day workshop on creating websites with WordPress.

I left home at quarter past seven, as dawn light fingered down the mountainsides from the high peaks, and returned at quarter past six that evening, as dusk was gathering in the day. (Westcliffe is an hour away when the roads are clear–as they were yesterday.)

My friend Bill LeRoy and his co-teacher, Terry Snyder had promised that by the end of the workshop, attendees would know everything we needed to set up and maintain our own websites, and would in fact have the basics of a site ready to go. Indeed, by the time we turned off our computers, I had built my new site and added some photos and words. I was elated–and completely wrung out. My eyes ached, my brain quivered like jello, and I was acutely aware that home was an hour’s drive away.


Not just any drive: here in rural south-central Colorado, land of deep valleys bounded by the highest ranges of the Rocky Mountains, we live with jaw-droppingly spectacular scenery, including postcard-pretty peaks rising a mile or more straight from wide valley-bottoms. And two-lane highways that alternate between fast and straight, and narrow and winding and very slow. Add in snow at this time of year, and highway-crossing wildlife.

I left Westcliffe when the sun slanted low toward the peaks, all too aware it would soon be evening mule deer commute time. Much of the route ahead is locally called “deer alley,” for good reason: muleys often amble across the highway at dawn and dusk, oblivious of traffic.


I forced my gritty eyes to scan the landscape  as I drove, alert for twin-hoofed travelers. I wasn’t five miles out of Westcliffe when I spotted the first ones, only they weren’t deer: a herd of about 100 pronghorn drifted up the grassy slope, the last stragglers still crossing the road.


I stopped (there wasn’t any traffic) to shoot a few photos. As I admired the sleek pronghorn, I felt a physical pang of grief that Richard was not with me to admire them. We shared a delight in all of the wild lives that inhabit this spectacular and harsh landscapes.

The pain was so sharp I pressed my hand to my chest. It felt like my heart was splitting. “I miss you,” I said out loud, and swiped tears from my eyes.

After a moment, it receded. I put my camera down and drove on.

The road swooped around a curve and wound through scattered pinon and ponderosa pines. I slowed for a tighter curve, and three robins flew low over the road. Then two more, with a third behind them.

The last bird suddenly slowed, turned and flew right into the hood. I braked and ducked. I felt the soft thud of contact and looked up at the rearview mirror to see the robin fluttering. And I didn’t stop.

Maybe it was the grief, maybe the exhaustion–whatever, I drove on. And castigated myself all the way home.

Perhaps that sounds soft-hearted. After all, it was “only” a robin, a common bird by all accounts. There are lots of robins. But only one specific robin, one specific life that hit my car. And I didn’t stop. 

It wasn’t until I had hauled myself and my briefcase into the house that I realized why: I simply couldn’t deal with another death. I hit my limit last Thanksgiving weekend when I helped the love of my life die as gracefully and mindfully as possible from brain cancer. My heart isn’t ready to weather another death, be it robin or man.

Grief, I am learning, is no more linear than life. Both twist and turn, offering spectacular beauty and serious pain; the calm of long, straight stretches interrupted by hair-raising rises or drops; and without warning, events that sometimes simply fly straight at us.

We duck, a robin flutters on, and somewhere, love smiles.


Books: Sofia’s Dream and Black Friday

It’s Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year in the United States, a time retail stores offer deals aimed at enticing shoppers to buy frenziedly, kicking off the Christmas shopping season. From an environmental perspective, the “black” in Black Friday could stand for the day’s effect on the earth itself, assuming black is in opposition to say, green. In our rush to get the advertised “deals,” we often forget that it’s not all about money. Cheaper rarely means better in terms of the effect of the “stuff” we’re buying on the environment. Take electronics, items high on most gift lists this season.

Whether you’re lusting after a big-screen TV, computer, iPad or e-book reader, or a game console, remember this: manufacturers save money by cutting corners, such as using toxic materials in  manufacturing products and processes (and exposing their employees to those toxics), disposing of toxics irresponsibly, and by not building in recycling programs for the products themselves, which then become toxic waste. Cheap products are often energy hogs too.

How do you find which electronics are “greener”? One place to check is the Electronics TakeBack Coalition’s shopping guide. Digital Tips also has a handy calculator to determine how much your electronics will cost you in energy use, plus lists of recycling programs, and tips for saving energy.

No product is entirely environmentally friendly. So the bottom line about buying on Black Friday or any other day: be moderate, and pick your purchases carefully. Stuff is made from natural resources, consumes energy, and becomes waste. Buying responsibly–and buying less–is the most environmentally friendly strategy.


If you’re going to buy stuff though, especially if you’ve got kids of the picture-book age to shop for, here’s a recommendation for a thoughtful purchase:  Sofia’s Dream, the book above. Why? First, it’s about being thoughtful about our impact on the environment. Second, Land Wilson’s story is charming, written entirely in rhyme that’s not too sweet for kids and has a rhythm parents will enjoy reading:

Sofia was a thoughtful girl,/who called the moon her giant pearl.
As nights passed and the moon would grow,/she marveled at its opal glow.

One bright night in a dreamy state,/Sofia heard a sound quite late.
As she peeked around at all her toys,/she wondered which one made a noise.

Turns out the noise comes from the moon. Sofia and the moon begin nightly chats, and soon become friends. The moon has something to say, and Sofia’s dream-journey to visit the moon gives her a new perspective on Earth and her place in it.

And then there are the lovely illustrations by Sue Cornelison, which enrich the story immensely.

Lastly, the book is from innovative kids’ book publisher Little Pickle Press (which also published What Does it Mean to be Present?, a title I reviewed back in August). Little Pickle Press cares enough to be environmentally responsible. Each title includes an environmental accounting statement summarizing the energy and resource cost of the paper used. Sofia’s Dream is printed on a paper made of 50% total recycled fibers, the majority post-consumer, in an acid- and chlorine-free process, powerd by wind power–not bad!

It’s still stuff, but Sofia’s Dream seems more than worth the cost, both in terms of dollars and the environment. (Full disclosure: This post is part of the blog book tour for Sofia’s Dream; I did not receive any compensation for the review. Check out the rest of the tour at the Little Pickle Press blog.)

Ipod shuffle Capture

In the tradition of Black Friday, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that Little Pickle Press is giving out one iPod Shuffle each week during the blog book tour for Sofia’s Dream. (iPod Shuffles, by the way, earn good ratings for environmentally friendly materials and manufacture, unlike some MP3 players, which include components made with carginogenic flame-retardant compounds and PVCs.) You can register for the drawing at the Little Pickle Press blog. Simply click the link and leave a comment on the blog with your name and email address. The drawing will be held at noon CST on Saturday.

Good luck, and please buy responsibly!