Wilderness — A Meditation

Thursday, November 29, 2012


 The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best
- and therefore never scrutinize or question
Stephen Jay Gould

a deer browsing near my clothes line
or at least I thought she was browsing

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Letters from Orion
Annielaural leFaye

A long list of associations slither through the moist summer evening while we sip a heavy merlot on the back veranda and reminisce about the early days, the days when we barely knew one another, when we were enthralled with the idea that we might become partners.

Stephen J. Gould and the Fig Tree

Stephen Jay Gould was on my mind.  And happy I was that I remembered his name.  One of the reasons it was so easy to give up my teaching gig after forty years in the classroom was that I had reached the point where in the middle of a lecture I was unable to withdraw from the depths of my memory banks, kind of like river banks full of the mud of the spring thaw, the names of authors about whom I wanted to share information in class. Gould was one of the many whose descriptions of science I wanted to share as literary masterpieces with my students.  He was no where to be found.  I had lost him in the morass of clinging starchy tapioca invading my brain.

And so in the midst of my morning musing, there was the New Yorker, the editor of Natural History Magazine, along with his evolutionary biology appetite, having morning tea in New York City's Natural History Museum, you know, the museum cafeteria with a blue whale swimming just under the ceiling.  Gould exists today only in his writings and in our memories.   His creative non-fiction science, his undisturbed logic which in a sort of unbelievable morass of slides from one part of his knowledge into another, his awareness of the complications and associations that informed his understanding of the world that which always I found alluring, the reason I still carry at least one paper book copy of his work where ever I travel just in case I find world watching a tad overbearing.  I can always  open to any page and suddenly find myself in another world, his mind.  Kind of like the movie John Malkovich.  Only  Gould’s brain is far  more intriguing and convoluted as it is, still engaging and informative. He has  entertained and transfixed for many years.  I subscribed to Natural History Magazine just so I could read his editorials and then bought the same bound in their own volumes over the years.  If you asked me whose writing I most enjoyed in all of my life, Gould along with Lewis Thomas would be in the top three. I have to admit that Stephenson and David Mitchell make  fine fourths for my bridge table of the mind. I think of them on early mornings when the fruit bats are colliding as they happily munch the tidy, tiny figs from our mammoth  Morton Bay Fig tree and the palm nuts from the front garden Cocos palms. 

Oops, another stream enters the mind. It is my duty when the sun rises this morning to rescue my new winter garden seedlings from the rain of palm nuts the bats lodge from their bundles. A less than tidy overload of green cocos nuts scramble throughout the garden, sometimes breaking the stalks of other native plants eking a living beneath the skinny, swaying palm fronds.

But, what of Stephen Jay Gould?  His words, his complex sentences that wind around ideas as varied as baseball, his favorite American past time, and typewriter keyboards as well as the color of flamingos, dance in my brain sometimes confusing me, always challenging my understanding as well as delighting my sense of how words work to convey associations between evolutionary biology, a figment of Gould's imagination, and the rest of reality.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tuesday - We travel tomorrow

Been busy.  Nanowrimo has kept me distracted.  I have 29,000 words so far..only 20,000 more to go, more or less.  And the Planning and Zoning Ordinance for my community is finished except for the last edits which must be completed for a week Wednesday. 

Weather has been cooperating. Kind of.  Above freezing almost or totally  during the daytimefor most of the past week .  Strange how fast 33 degrees F seems warm.  Throwing off the comforters from the bed because the house is too hot when the thermostat is set at 50 degrees F.

Love acclimiaizing.  Good for the blood.  And did I mention the sunsets and sunrises..spectacular at both ends of the spectrum.  And it's good because sunrise doesn't come til just after 8 a.m. and sunset is very close to 5 p.m. 

Both the Australian and I are enjoying the daylight hours and struggling to find stuff to do during the night times.  Meetings help and there have been plenty of those in light of the work we've done on the Planning Doco.

Whilst I worry over words, the Aussie puts new glass in the city tractor so that winter winds won't freeze the operator in the coming months of street snow clearing. 

No end to the work we both have available. 

But tomorrow we celebrate with a flight to Phoenix/Mesa airport and a long drive to Flagstaff to enjoy the companionship, laughter, and love of family. Hooray for this holiday.

Hope you all have a joyous week end with those you love.

Catch you next week with a report on the trip from border to border..that means we live five miles south of the Canadian border and the airport to which we are traveling is 140 miles north of the Mexican border..good to see this slice of America from on high..

Monday, November 12, 2012

Keyboarding - Access to More Brain Cells

11 November 2012 is my 72nd birthday and today is a good snow story.  About eight inches of white stuff has fallen in the past twenty-four hours.  We are inundated for the first time this year and all is well.  Temperatures hover under 20 degrees F with promises of almost 0 sometime soon.

And in this snowy world I realize I am a fortunate soul, a woman whose man will make sacrifices to satisfy her needs, not just on a physical level but also on a social and spiritual level.  What is loved by one of us is appreciated by the other.  When one of us is criticized by the out-lander world, the world that is not privy to our close connection shared daily, the other arrives in support and concern.   

The internet has been our connection for so much of the past twelve years that I often think it is more responsible than physical reality for our relationship.  We represent cyber coupling brought into being by the electrical systems that pervade the online world.  It is waves of energy that connected us and today keep us connected.

We live in a world criss-crossed by that same kinetic energy floating through the atmosphere of our home.  I often wonder at the fact that we energize in this environment rather than find ourselves depressed by it.

Just as when the telephone rings and one knows who is on the other end of the line before picking up the receiver or clicking the button, the computer draws us into a proximity of being that until recently no other part of our world could.  Perhaps this communication is what the Neanderthals left to us – an ability to know without knowing why we know.  An ability to communicate with out speaking words. 

I wonder if speaking computers are actually a sign of progress rather than a regression.  It is our fingertips that spell and create on line rather than our voice box.  It is an entirely different part of our brain that is working when we type rather than when we speak.  Isn’t it a marvel to know that there are two aspects of our brain working synonoymously that actually tie into a level of creativity that we didn’t used to have.

Oh we have been writing for a very long time, but handwriting doesn’t quite count.  So slow, so ponderous. Keyboarding, on the other hand, gives us a moment to think, write, rewrite, edit, republish ad naseum before there is an audience to critique or hear, read, see our thoughts. We have the option of using the ‘right’ words instead of the ‘momentarily’ accessible word.

And perhaps this thought comes to mind beause I have grown old and my mind is not as agile as it once was in finding the precise language to express what filters through my psyche in search of a way to communicate.  The secondary process of keyboarding, going back instantly to correct, and then keyboarding again to expres an idea which in the moment seems momentous. It is, you know, momentous.  For these ideas come unbidden just as spoken language does, but in the process of using the fingertips to formulate, the fingertips to which such a massive portion of the brain is devoted, we have at our bidding two of the most facile aspects of our brain.

And the Aussie and I seem to favor the use of many brain cells in an attempt to communicate - I applaud our success.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Snowy Saturday

Woke to 6-8 inches of snow and that means QUIET.  No cars zoomed down our street this morning.  Only one set of tracks distrubed the lovely white way.  Woke slowly to overcast, but brilliant overcast if you can imagine.  The reflection from snow drifts and rime ice on all the branches in town created fairy tale fantasies.

I probably should have shoveled my way out of the house and headed to the Senior Center to make coffee.  After all, it is Saturday morning.  But dreamily lazy was the mood.  I just enjoyed my coffee, changed the flannel sheets, put the new blue down blanket on the bed and wandered aimlessly for a while.

I love the first snows.  We were prepared by shopping the day before.  Not that our cupboards are ever very bare.  Oatmeal was particularly tasty and the breezes were soft.

About 4:30, just before dark descended, I did my tour of town.  The fire at the old school house still bellows smoke into the atmosphere from some deep blaze that is gumming up the basement works of the now demolished buildings.  The kids had just come out to play for a bit.  Warmly dressed in heavy duty rubber boots, good gloves, and hoodies to die for, they were in the midst of a snow ball contest. 

I walked on, arrived home with cold fingers and promised that next time I would wear mittens instead of gloves and here I am bragging about our lovely corner of the planet where life is good and white and somehow pristine.  Temperatures are to drop to 6 F tonight..May our water lines stay unfrozen.

And may your Veterans Day be as delightful as ours will be.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Storm on the Border

Siting at my computer in  my attic office I look out over the snowy slough below a strip of  golden fluff left over from durham harvest mixed with patches of snow beyond which lies the grove of leafless trees on a bluff to the west of the  almost invisible red barn. My fingers tingle just a bit in the cold.  The temperatures today never quite made it above freezing, but the wind forgot to blow.

Prediction from NOAA  for the next couple of days includes the arrival of an Alberta Express.  The line on the map that delineates the border between Canada and the USA impresses my mind so that somehow the weather follows the 49th parallel. 

Of course, it doesn’t.  But as always what one thinks is far more important than any fact floating through the intellectualsphere.  Of course ,the weather to the north will be more exciting, less forgiving, and always colder, wetter, and more deadly than the weather on this side of the border.

In fact, it is the Rockies, Canadian and American, that really affect the storms that make it into our little corner of the prairie.  Hardly a corner, our land encompass over a thousand square miles of short grass prarie over which weather moves  along ancient patterns established by warm air rising from the Gulf of Mexico two thousand miles south to mix with arctic billows sliding across The Gulf of Alaska through the various canyons of the Rockies out onto the plains. 

All we can do is cope with whatever the eddies far out in the southern or northern oceans leapfrog into our atmosphere.  We dress warm in winter and undress more by more in summer but we always allow for the winds that cool by myriad degrees in winter and by ever so slight degrees in summer.

The worst storms in over twenty-five years lingered in our own half acre in the winter of 2010-2011.  The rain storms of spring 2011  filled the slough to within twenty feet of the house.  Sump pumps worked 24/7 to empty the ground beneath basements.

During spring planting, farmers in the cabs of behemoths of the industry slid down into wind rows, stuck four or five feet into the clay bottoms beneath the four inches of topsoil.  No vehicles could pull them out.  Patience was the mantra of the day.

And then on 1 May the warmth disappeared and a giantic storm rolled in off the Gulf of Alaska dropping vast numbers of feet of snow on mountain tops and still had enough moisture when it met the uplifting  Gulf of California stream to drop four feet of snow and winds up to ninety miles per hour on our land.

There we sat suddenly with no electricity.  The wet ground followed by the extreme wind conditions in the pulsating storm  pulled the electricity poles loose like a seven year old loosing a front tooth. 

The ground was so soggy that the huge electrical line equipment bogged as soon as they left the roadside. Seventy heavy duty repair vehicles lay stranded up to their knees in mud surrounded by puddles of water on which mallards mildly ducked beneath the surface to feed and Canada geese preened on the upper quarter of huge wheel wells watching ‘manunkind’ attempt to repair what they could not reach.

And we?  We hooked up the propane heater to keep warm, kept the refrigerator door closed so that milk would not sour any faster than it might.  We pulled out the jig saw puzzles, moved furniture so that the table top was close to the bay window and used the white cloud cover to illuminate the puzzle pieces as we gossiped about the worst winter we could ever remember living through.

The Australian had stories of Nepal where he had climbed some of the world’s highest peaks.  Bart, who had been born in Manley, told stories of widowed women who walked thirteen miles through snow drifts  with a plucked roaster in hand to visit neighbors who lived in shanty shacks buried under sod roofs at the turn of the last century.  I remembered the ice storms of the late 1940s in the lower peninsula of Michigan when we were not allowed to go out of doors for fear of huge tree branches cracking and dropping.

There was the story of the little second grader who wanted so much to be part of the social group with whom she sat in class in the midst of spring thaw. In the playground she tried to be part of the group as they forced her to stand in the middle of a March stream at the back of the playground.  There she stood with the water just almost leaking in over the tops of her rubber boot tops.

When the bell rang, the others who had held her captive in her icy prison ran to the classroom.  She gingerly tiptoed back to the bank of the small stream and immediately told the older children in her four room school house.

The perpetrators found themselves in identical situations during recess the next day. 

The second grader had learned a lesson.  Suffering in silence was not an option.  Seeking out the support of older, wiser, more powerful persons paid off.  And the gift of gab was an essential tool in restitution.

In the midst of our evening stone soup made from contributions from several households in town on our propane stove top, we all commiserated, drank the last bottle of wine in the house and when everyone left for home, we turned off the heater to save on fuel and snuggled into the down covers to keep warm.

Five days later, Montana/Dakota Utilities figured out how to lay lines just above the surface of the wetlands and electricity was restored.

But this was only the last of several stories told during this most stormy winter in twenty-five years in northern Montana.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Hand Me Downs

‘Hand me downs?  You want me to wear hand me downs?  Don’t you know anything about me?  I know your work shirts come from Good Will.  I’m ok with that.  Hell, you look good in anything, but me?  Look at me!  Do you really think I’d find sizes to fit me at a second hand store?’

She flounced angrily onto the fouton couch, kicked off her slip-on shoes, and wrapped her hands around her knees brought up to her chest.  Trying to avoid him, she stared out the bay windows.  The lake was covered in a thin shell of ice.  It would be a long winter before the hatchlings would break out of that pale white cage, she thought.  And me, it’s gonna be a lifetime before I agree to wear hand me downs. ‘Do you realize a woman who is now dead, a woman who died at 75, belonged to these clothes?’

Tamara, you’re making a big deal out of nothing.  Becky just handed me the bag and asked if you would like to look through it before she passed it off to the Second Hand store.  I didn’t give it a thought.  The bag’s been sitting in the truck for the last three days. It was so important that I forgot all about it.’

‘And when did you see Becky?’

‘Don’t start this, Tamara. I’m sick to death of your accusations. ‘

She curled into a tighter ball on the couch and stared into the white fog that surrounded her world just beyond the lake shore.  ‘I just want to enjoy this winter,’ she thought. ‘I hate fighting with you.  You should have explained that I wouldn’t want Elvira’s cast offs.’

‘Cast offs?  She died, for god’s sake.  She didn’t cast em off.  She died!’

‘I know, but it feels like cast offs.  You know how she dressed.  Hardly a prairie woman.  She spent gadzillions on her clothes.’

‘Then, what’s wrong with them?  I don’t understand.’

‘She wore them.  If I wear them, people will know that they are from her.’

‘And, whatever does that mean?’

‘It means they’ll snicker and talk behind my back about how we can’t afford decent clothes for me, about how much better they looked on her.’

‘Hardly.  Most of them know you already spend more on your bras than most of them do on an entire outfit.’

‘And just how do you know that?’

‘I’ve paid the bill.’

‘You have not.  I pay the credit card bills.  My pension covers all my costs.’

‘Sure.  Here in America you pay, but in Oz, I pay.’

‘Not for my clothes.’

‘I’ve had enough.  Be back in a bit.  I’m gonna go put the door on the lift station.’

‘Cold and snowy out there.   You sure you want to work in that cold?’

‘Not so bad,’ he murmured as he pulled on his fur lined red hat with the ear flaps down.  Just have to keep my fingers warm.’ He closed the door to the living room as he entered the foyer and then closed the outer door.

‘She looked.  Hummm. Must have made an impression.  He actually closed both doors.  She thought of the cost of electric heat here on the prairie. The bill this month was going to be fabulous.

This would be the third winter they had spent in Montana a few miles from the Canadian border.  She had to admit that they wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t brought him to visit five years ago.  In order to support a dear friend who was born in Spencer, she had purchased a lot for back taxes, a whopping $700 had made her a land owner. The lot was especially pleasant with twenty feet high caragana shrubs protecting it from the roadway and a lovely view out over the lake to the oat and wheat fields on the other side.

She loved to sit near the bay window and enjoy the serenity of the farmstead a mile north.  Manley, the owner, lived in town.  But he kept his folks homestead cleared and trimmed.  The red barn sported a brand new coat of paint.  The silo stood empty, but white at the far end acting as a focal point for this rural painting that greeted her each morning.

That morning grew later on each of these winter days  as the sun rose slower and slower.  By 23 December she’d be looking forward to a celebration of lights – probably lighting candles throughout the house and if wasn’t windy, inside paper bags down the sidewalk to the front door.  The Norweigans were the ones who started this ceremony to push back the dark, but her Irish self truly looked forward to the fantastical feel of it all.