Letter to the New Owners

 

Look, it’s my fault, I think.

I must have forgotten to mention the trees. Surely, if you’d known, they’d still be standing.

That little aspen grove in the corner of the yard? They were babies, not higher than my knee, when we moved in 16 years ago. Eight or 10 of them, connected in ways we may never understand. We watched them grow and struggle and grow and then finally thrive. They were a few feet taller than me when we packed the moving truck. They had survived a blizzard that dumped 9 feet of heavy snow on top of them, a storm of a century that broke the branches of our sturdiest pines. They survived several summers when no rain came until early September, when their stressed leaves turned not bright gold but a mustard brown, and fell to the ground in the slightest breeze. But they survived. Provided cool shade from a burning high-altitude sun, allowing ferns and mushrooms to grow in the patches of earth between them. Until now.

And that one thick lodgepole pine by the deck. For 16 years, that tree held the wooden birdfeeder my father built for me with his own hands, and that my husband hung snugly against the trunk, so tight no 120 mph wind in the dead of February winter could send it flying through the woods. I lost my dad two years ago, but I still had that weathered birdfeeder. That he made me. In that tree. Birds of all shapes and sizes ate from that feeder year-round. Chickadees, woodpeckers, pine grosbeaks, bluebirds, gray jays, nuthatches, dippers, pine siskins, crows and the incomparable stellar’s jays, with their breathtakingly rich blue-sky wings and screechy call. Red-tailed hawks sat in that tree waiting for a rosy finch lunch, and once, a golden eagle rested there. Right there. My kid learned about birds from watching that tree. He knew the call of a chickadee before he knew any kind of rhyming song. I wrote and edited novels next to it, listening to the noisy chipper games of squirrels and chipmunks.

You see, these trees were quite possibly some of the most spiritual things I’ve ever accepted into my over-cynical mind. If there was a god of some kind, a power in the universe working beyond our control, I figured it must reside in the bark of those trees.

But now. Well.

So for future reference, here are a few other things to note.

The woodstove in the great room is your lifeline. Don’t treat it like an appliance, something that can be replaced easily. It will heat the whole cabin on a 50-below zero night with 60 mph winds howling outside, when there is no way a propane furnace could keep up with that kind of cold. Not all woodstoves pack that kind of punch. But our little one can. And did for 16 years. If you treat it well, it will protect you from the kind of cold you can die from.

Also, there’s a little piece of skinny, floor-to-ceiling wood that frames the closet in the extra bedroom. It has tiny marks and dates, indicating how our son grew, from when he could first stand with his head proudly flush against the wall, his chin a little raised. He’d let me mark his height there, in his room, and spin around to see just how much he’d grown since the last mark was made. We marked his last height the week before we moved. He’s 10. And I know those are our marks, not yours. And yet, they belong to that cabin in a way you don’t yet.

Let’s also talk about the creek behind the house. A selling point for our cabin, no doubt. But there’s a responsibility that comes with that. Stupid people sometimes come up to the mountains and dump their crap back there, near the creek. Don’t ask me why. And the winds, so fierce in the winter, blow things all around on the mountain, too, and a lot if can end up in the creek. So, you’ll have to stay on top of the trash in the spring and early summer. If you want the moose and bears to still visit for fresh drinking water, and the trout to still swim through it during snow melt-off. And that way, if you take care of it, you can sit by it in the summer evenings, listening to the still and then the rush and the flow, and know that it’s not polluted with beer cans and Styrofoam and parts of an old mattress, but quite likely renewing a whole ecosystem downstream. And maybe a part of yourself, too.

There is so much more to say. The little blue spruce that is about 4 feet tall along the rock walkway? I planted that our first year in the cabin. We were broke, but it was on a clearance shelf at Home Depot for $3. I bought it and planted it and cared for it like a child during the years when I suffered miscarriages and the emotional and physical pain of infertility. I couldn’t make a baby, but I could water that tree. After his adoption, my son and I hung Christmas lights on that tree many years. No tree was ever more wanted.

Oh, and the front of the house next to the large boulders? There’s a perfectly sunny spot there in the winter where you’ll want to stack your firewood. Trust me, we tried a lot of stacking locations over the years. But the important thing to remember is that you have to move that wood by middle of May, if there is any left over, because if the ground is allowed to feel the sun, it will eventually spring forth a mountain wildflower garden in late June. Purple fireweed will bloom, and wild roses, and yarrow and sunflowers, and pink clover, and even a few yellow wallflowers, and they’ll change your life every time you see them in the morning light.

The back deck. Where to begin? My son gardened with me on that deck, rode his Big Wheel on that deck. Learned to shovel snow on that deck. Took naps on summer afternoons on that deck. Had picnics on that deck. Laid, wrapped in blankets, on chilly August nights watching meteors showers on that deck. My husband perfected his barbecue techniques on that deck, with his old-school charcoal grill. We’ve listened to music on that deck as a family, made s’mores together around the firepit, wrote songs together, sang Rocky Mountain High together at midnight on that deck, ate lazy summer meals on that deck with good friends and family. A family of raccoons lived under that deck one winter. This year, it was rabbits. Lots of rabbits that our golden retriever mixes would visit 10 times a day. We have had bears on that deck. Red and black foxes that look into the sliding glass door at dinnertime. We made our most important decisions on that deck.

I could go on, but why? Why. We chose to leave. Life moves on. Things change. The raw, unbridled, sometimes-harsh life at the top of a mountain was exactly what I needed when I moved to Colorado from Texas so many years ago. I wanted to be tested. I wanted to heal whatever was broken. I wanted that log cabin and piece of land at 10,500 feet above sea level, with its surrounding snow-capped peaks, to save me, and it did. Again and again and again. I didn’t want to leave that cabin, or my mountain. But I had to, and now. It’s not mine anymore.

You are the stewards.

Please handle with care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Poetry: A Different Seed

texas-bluebonnets-081

 Photo by Texas Parks & Wildlife

So … I’m knee-deep in poetry right now, still.  And I feel almost guilty. I have so many people waiting on my next novel, but I’ve set it aside (again). I’m drawn to poetry and I’m gonna ride this pony til she stops.

Here’s one of my latest that I worked on in a recent Lighthouse Writers workshop. I can’t seem to get the line spacing right on this blog, but it’s close.

Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!

 

A Different Seed

I was born in fields of bluebonnets,

ink-well-sapphire             dense petals spiked in sun-blind white

short-lived in the Texas spring —

each dew-soaked stem

flattened just yesterday

by the sharp nose of the coyote

the hoof-step of the Hereford

hiding the hiss and slither of the rattler —

always bouncing back

seemingly singular,

good for early-morning picking

before the heat sets in.

 

Yet by high noon

it’s never easy

to detach a wilted loner

from the rest      held together by a nest of roots

entrenched in the holy dirt

of Saint Sam Houston

el malvado Santa Anna

battle-blood of the Alamo

sweet bread of the German siedler

rusted barbed-wire of fences

oily cotton boll of the farmer

weather-worn skull of a fire-ant-stricken calf

my grandfather would’ve tried to save.

 

And even though Lady Bird’s highways are lined with them —

musky-sweet flowers,

family ties,

good intentions —

 

not every seed will grow

where planted.

 

Is it easily spread on the wind?

Can it tolerate full sun?

 

And what happens

when

the parched and crisp soil

becomes suddenly drenched,

clay-like —

unable to breathe?

A Million Ways to Die in Texas

Dont-Mess-With-Texas-350x288

Two weekends ago, the husband and I saw the Seth MacFarlane comedy-western movie, A Million Ways to Die in the West. It’s all about how completely batshit crazy-dangerous it was to live on the Western Frontier in the 1800s. Basically, if a gunfight didn’t kill you, cholera would. It was good for a few laughs … but mostly just a great excuse to sit in the air-conditioned theater and eat buttered popcorn. (Real butter, people! Thank you, Alamo Drafthouse.)

It got me thinking, though, about my beloved (sometimes) home state of Texas. Because let’s face it. It’s not that much different than the Wild West, even in 2014.

Now, I won’t list the full million ways to kick the proverbial bucket in Texas, because I do have a life. (And I won’t even go into the whole open-carry, everyone-ought-to-have-an-AK47 gun thing because I prefer not to get hate emails.)

But here’s a start:

  1. You could be killed by one of the 15 different kinds of poisonous snakes that make Texas their home. Seriously, there are 15 … and 10 of those are rattlesnakes. There are also three kinds of copperheads. And then there’s the cottonmouth water moccasin and the coral snake. Basically, if you go outside in the summer, whether on dry land or near a body of water, and you’re not wearing boots, you’re dead.
  2. You could succumb to heat stroke. Texas is a huge state, but one thing is pretty consistent whether you’re in North, South, East or West Texas: It gets damn hot. As in hitting 95 degrees in February and staying above 100 degrees for most of the summer. You can actually get five-degree burns on the bottom half of your ass (I made that up; the degrees only go to three) just by sitting on a tailgate in shorts in August.
  3. If you choose to lie down for a nap in the cool (ha) green grass, you might never recover from the fire ant stings. We used to lose more baby calves to fire ants than to coyotes. And if you do get stung by a thousand fire ants, and you don’t die, you’ll likely wish you had. So it’s a wash.
  4. Should I also mention spiders? There are FIVE different kinds of brown recluse spiders and all of them live and love the Motherland of Texas, and also the dark interiors of boots. Of course, there are also effing black widows. BLACK WIDOWS EVERYWHERE. There are jumping spiders and also tarantulas. And while those last two aren’t really all that venomous, if they take aim and jump at you, you will probably die of a heart attack. (To those people who say that jumping tarantulas are a myth, I say you are wrong. I have witnessed it myself, and the only reason I didn’t die of Freaking Out Syndrome is that I was 10 and my heart was still strong.)
  5. Here’s one not many people think of: You could get hit in the head with a rodeo belt buckle. These are large, heavy metal objects that, when sent flying through the air, can be lethal in a severing-a-major-artery kind of way. Please don’t ask me how I know this. Also you may be asking yourself, “How often does a belt buckle go flying through the air?” Doesn’t matter. Only takes once.
  6. One phrase: The Mexican drug cartel.
  7. If you’re allergic to dust, oak pollen, cedar, scorpions or bee stings, and you don’t have an inhaler or epinephrine injection handy, you might as well kiss breathing goodbye.
  8. Finally, drowning’s big in Texas, too. From flash floods or being drunk on a boat on a lake, or simply playing in the Guadalupe River with its magical sink holes and mystery vortexes that suck you under in Gonzales and spit you out in the Gulf of Mexico, your odds of going down are pretty high.

I could go on, but I’m getting homesick.

Texas friends, what would you add?

And Colorado friends, should we make a list of our own for this fine state? I think there may be even more than Texas: blizzards, mudslides, I-70 in the winter, hypothermia, mountain lions …

What about other states? Come on, it’s morbid fun.

 the_texas_chainsaw_massacre_image

 Despite its content, this blog post was not brought to you by the Texas Tourism Board.

 

A Walk and a Talk in the Mountains

I had the day off from work on Friday, and even though my husband and I were both still feeling sick from a Colorado Super Bug going around, I announced I was heading up to our cabin on the mountain. I needed to be there, to take one of my old walks that I took daily for more than a decade. It’s the same way I feel about Texas about twice a year, too. That driving need to be back in touch with some basic part of who I am.

My husband has been up to the cabin several times since we’ve moved, but I have stayed away. I knew I’d likely tie myself to a pine tree and he’d have to peel my arms away or chop down the tree to get me to leave. And frankly, it played out kind of just like that.

On our walk, we talked about moving back. It’s a tough thing, marriage. And parenting. You just never know for sure what the right move is. You can guess, and you can hope to high heaven you’re making the best choices. And then you can pick up the pieces and put them back together when they turn out to be the wrong ones.

I’m still not sure what we’ll do. I want to do what’s best for our son. His needs come first. But it’s all so murky, that determining what’s best.

Yes, it’s dangerous to live and drive up there on the mountain. The drive to school alone would be trying … about 50 minutes one way. And yet, I have to also believe that living in such a raw, untamed area would feed his soul, too. Right?

And let’s not forget his newfound love, or obsession, with fishing. At our cabin, he could walk out the back door and fish in a beautiful creek within minutes. And there are three private stocked lakes, too. He could be ice-fishing within 5 minutes during the winter. And doesn’t the opportunity to witness bears and moose and mountain lions and stellar jays and golden eagles in your back yard have profound educational value?

I’m not completely crazy, by the way. I know life on the mountain is tougher. The elements (wind, cold, blizzards) demand that you develop survival intelligence, that you respect Mother Nature in all her greatness. That you learn the value of hard work, like chopping wood, that ends up keeping you warm all winter. You learn that life isn’t just one big easy paved suburban street. You learn that sometimes the power can go out for days, but that’s okay because you kick ass at Scrabble and keeping a fire going 24 hours a day.

But are those lessons he really needs to learn in today’s society? Shouldn’t I be trying to create the easiest life for him? So that his biggest worries are doing well in school and making friends with kids, not foxes?

Or maybe we should just forget the mountain for now and instead live abroad for a year or two. Let a foreign country shape the kiddo instead of life at 10,500 ft. Maybe then my unsettled feeling would be replaced by excitement for a new adventure. Of course, there’s that little problem called money to fund such a thing, and let’s face it … we don’t exactly have Eat, Pray, Love kind of reserves going on.

I don’t have all the answers yet. But I’ll leave you with a few photos I took while we were on our walk … showcasing the Colorado Rockies in transition. The gorgeous aspen leaves are all gone, but the lake isn’t completely frozen over. The snow is on the mountain and some of the trails, but water is still trickling through the waterfalls. Paradise to me.

Colorado mountains

mountain trail

pine tree in the mountains

pine trees reflecting in water and ice

Free Weekend Promotion! Children’s Picture Book for Kindle Fire

Higgenbloom and the Dancing GrandmasHi all! Now through Monday, my children’s picture ebook (for kids age 3 to 6 and all adults!) is FREE on Amazon – available for download to your Kindle Fire or to your iPad with the Kindle reading app.

Download the free Kindle book right now.

This is likely the only free promotion that’ll happen this year, so take advantage, and help spread the word about the book! (Reviews are always appreciated, too.)

I really hope you enjoy Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas.

Here’s the book description:

Higgenbloom the Honey Bee didn’t fit in with the other bees who lived on Grandma Rosemary’s farm. Instead of working from sunup to sundown like the others, Higgenbloom was known for doing silly somersaults, breaking out in little bee boogies, and pretending he was a jet pilot, zooming from flower to flower and making himself quite dizzy. But sadly, Higgenbloom always played alone. One morning, Higgenbloom wanders off on his own (again), only to find himself in a heap of trouble — trapped inside a moving car and traveling away from the farm and everything he knows! Find out what happens when Higgenbloom goes on an adventure … and encounters some very cool Dancing Grandmas along the way. Packed with abundant silliness, interactive questions for children, and beautiful illustrations, Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas is the perfect book for fun grandmothers who know how to “rock and roll,” grandchildren who love being silly, or anyone who has ever wanted to boogie down — no matter what others might think.
Thanks for reading!


 

Different Reactions to a Big Cat Sighting

mountain lion

And by Big Cat, I mean THIS.

 

 

 

 

 

My latest observation …

Denver Foothills people: Wow, a mountain lion. How big? Male or female? Adult or juvenile? Be sure to knock on your neighbors’ doors to tell them. Bring your dogs and children inside for two weeks. Be on the lookout and report all evidence!

Colorado Mountain people: Yep. Heard him last week on my roof at 2 a.m. Went outside, heard him hiss at me, went back to bed.

Texas people: Honey, where’s the camera and my gun?

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By the way, I wrote about my own encounter with a mountain lion once for my now-defunct online mountain living column. Here’s an excerpt, for posterity.

I think I’ll always remember his stare. His black-brown eyes locked on the front end of my car and didn’t flinch. The muscles along his jaw moved, but his face and eyes did not. He didn’t glance away, not once. His ears didn’t move, either, as I thought they might. His tail was black-tipped and as long as his body, and it switched back and forth, as he seemed to be considering his options. It reminded me of how a house cat might swish his tail before pouncing on a toy mouse. I actually wondered at one point if he might lunge toward my Subaru.

His face was sharp and angular and surprisingly small compared to the rest of his body. A black line continued from his nose to his mouth, and combined with his long whiskers, he looked like he had a thin, handle-bar mustache. His stance was slightly crouched as he looked at me, his sleek body lines sloping to the back feet. He was wary of me, but there was definitely a sense that he was in control.

It seemed like five minutes or so that we stared each other down. I thought about fumbling for my camera phone, but that seemed somehow wrong. Besides, one movement on my part would have shortened our time together, I think.

Finally, with a swift decision, he leaped from the right side of the two-lane road to the left. And in one long and graceful jump, muscles rippling under his tawny fur, he disappeared into the brush and trees leading to the creek behind our home.

Afterward, as I continued along the road toward our house, I shivered a bit, literally, thinking of all the times my husband, son and I have walked that same path along the creek. Had he been there any of those times, after grabbing a drink from the water, watching us? Swishing that tail?

In some ways, I kind of hope so. After all, he’s one of us.

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[photo credit – St. Mary’s College of California]