Tag Archive | friends

Wild Summer

 

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When guests come we always enjoy cocktails at the Black Canyon.

I’ve had company almost full-time for six weeks. It’s been wonderful to see so many beloved friends from across the divide and across the continent, and there have been lots of wild adventures.

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A picnic at Lost Lake with Kathy and Jean.

Wildlife-8088.jpgWhile Kathy was here, we saw a pair of courting coyotes at the Black Canyon, a big horn sheep and lamb in Colorado National Monument, and two nests of fledgling raptors. Our goal was to see a predator per day, and we very nearly made it.

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She hid her baby behind the sagebrush before we got our cameras on them. Beyond her, the Grand Valley and the Bookcliffs obscured by a raging dust storm.

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The successful redtail nest along the road to town, which fledges two or three hawklets each summer. Below, a pair of golden eaglets in their cliff nest just days before their first flight.

Eagles-7792.jpgBear-5592.jpgTwo weeks ago when Cindy was visiting, she spotted it first: There’s a critter down there, she said. When I first saw the long black tail I thought A black panther! A melanistic cougar… I grabbed the binoculars out of the ammo can beside the bench to identify what that dark blob was: a black bear napping in the canyon, head down, eyes closed, right arm stretched out. We must have been upwind because none of the three dogs noticed. It was uncanny, because she had just brought me a belated birthday present, the long-awaited bear puzzle: 

 

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But the grand prize of wildlife sightings, the one everyone who comes here hopes to see, eluded them all and came only to me.

I was behind the house, I can’t remember exactly where or what I was doing, when I heard Stellar make an ungodly strange noise, as though he were terribly hurt, or had his head stuck in something. It wasn’t a bark or a howl, or even something between the two; it was an all over the place moaning wail, up down and around. I dropped whatever I was doing and ran toward the sound, calling “Stellar, what’s happened?!”

He was outside the dog pen, as was Raven, with no apparent harm to either, but he was dancing in a weird way and looking inside the pen, and I followed his eyes just in time to see something brown jump over the fence at the back corner. Was it a deer? But it didn’t bound over, and besides they can’t get over that fence like they can the yard fence; we had a tragic episode a few years ago proving that.

It flowed over. Deep inside I knew. This all took about ten seconds as I continued moving toward the dogs. I stepped on past their shed to look over the back fence and saw it trot about fifteen feet beyond the pen, then stop, turn, and look back to where, by now, Raven stood in the corner of the pen barking at it. A beautiful mountain lion stood broadside to us, looking full-face at Raven, for all the world as if it were considering whether to go back and get her.

I slowly stepped closer to the fence, Stellar quiet by my side, my heart pounding, my mouth hanging open. Don’t go back! I thought to the lion. Good girl! I thought to Raven. Time did stand still. I did not know what to do, but my head did not fill with that horrible static it does when I’m in a panic about some human unknown. It emptied of all but wonder.

I processed the fact that I couldn’t get a good picture of it with my phone, even if I could get the phone out fast enough, and so I stayed still, goggling at the scene, which was kind of a standoff: I looked from the lion to the barking dog, back and forth, flickering attention between the two, evaluating possibilities, considering whether to intervene with a yell, wondering where the cats were, and why it had jumped into the dog pen, and was everyone alright? Then I focused on the lion, breathing in my good fortune at seeing it, and then at realizing there was nothing in its mouth: The little cats were safe somewhere else.

It wasn’t a huge lion, but it wasn’t a yearling; maybe a two-or three-year old male, or a female of any age, and not the classic blond cougar we expect. It was redder at the back, with a dark shadow of black-tipped fur along its tail and haunches, lighter at the shoulders and head, with its face russet around the cheeks. It looked back and forth at us. As the energy among us calmed, I slowly reached in my pocket for the camera, and the lion turned and trotted off through the trees.

That whole thing took another ten seconds.

Stellar and I walked into the pen down to the corner where Raven still barked, Stellar as alert as could be, walking just under my fingertips. As he began barking I searched the sagebrush and junipers but there was no lingering hint of the lion. I checked the time: 5:08. I was expecting a call at 5:30 for virtual cocktails. Still catching my breath, I called the cats and brought dogs and cats in for their dinner, shaking just a little as I prepped their bowls, and then I made a good stiff drink.

This makes the sixth mountain lion I’ve seen since I moved to this land. I know there are plenty of them out there, and it’s one reason I love it here. But I’ve never seen one nearly this close to my house. Nor to me!

All kinds of thoughts, of course, ran through my head. I grabbed drink, chips, binoculars, phone and dogs, and went out to sit on the patio, where I simply looked around, feeling very much alive. I wondered if it was still nearby thinking about whyever it had gone into that pen and about the dogs who had chased it out.

I played back the images to lock them in: the glimpse of brown slithering over the tall fence, the long tail and then the lion stopping to look back at us, the rounded reddish cheeks, eye contact. Already it was fading. That kind of sight, we say it gets etched into our memory, but really it starts to fade the second it’s gone, and now I’m left with tissue paper stills of an extraordinary few seconds that pulsated with vitality.

The next evening, around the same time, I walked to the canyon as usual, armed only with walking sticks and two bouncing hounds. When I choose to put my life at risk, it is in this manner: to carry an iced martini in a blue-stemmed glass through a woods where lions prowl, to a canyon where bears and lions dwell, to sit still on a bench overlooking the edge. I count my blessings every day that I am able to live where the chance of being harmed by a wild animal is greater than the chance of being harmed by a feral human.

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My two best dogs ever in the whole history of the planet: Raven after a dust roll, and Stellar in a field of wildflowers up Leroux Creek just the other day.

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Love and Heartache

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Just a couple more jars of apricot jam left from last summer… savoring every single morsel since the harvest looks bleak this year. Neighbor Fred taught me how to tell if the fruit has frozen, and it sure looks like I won’t have many, if any, apricots this year. 

But the good news is, so far, as the radio DJ said a couple of weeks ago, Looks like we’ll have fruit this year, folks. Our valley’s abundant fruit crops, cherries peaches pears apples nectarines, apparently survive, a boon to all the fruit farmers, thus far. Who knows what the next day will bring? We’ll know more later!

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Keeping up with the tulips: The gorgeous red tulips I thought were toast after the first spring snow rebounded dramatically and lasted another week or two.

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It’s been warm sun interspersed with rain, hail and snow the past few weeks, and the four varieties of naturalizing tulips in the south border keep going strong, opening sequentially, including Tulipa tarda, Tulipa batalinii, Tulipa linifolia above, and one I can’t decipher on my map.

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I found the old map from when I first planted this border years ago, naming all the varieties of tulip, iris, grape hyacinth, and groundcovers. Too bad I abbreviated some, and can’t read others. Special jonquils and red species tulips, above; More tulips, and Biko the leopard tortoise keeping down weeds, below.

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And talk about tulips! The tulips at Deb’s house on Easter were glorious.

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The tattooed girl brought violet syrup and fresh violet blossoms for our Easter Dinner cocktail, violet martinis, and an hors d’oeuvre featuring the complicated green endive that she grew, below.

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A true friend comprehends the importance of an uncontaminated cheese knife.

The flowering trees are almost done, and may or may not produce fruit. Blossoms on both apples look dingy today after three inches of snow last night and a low of 28. Whatever survived that could drop tomorrow if it reaches the predicted low of 21. All spring it has been like this. The trees started weeks earlier than usual, so we all knew it was an iffy season. I’ve been making the most of their beauty, hanging out with each tree as it began to bloom, following it through its fullness ~ full of blossoms, full of bees ~ and into its flower-fading leafing out.

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The wild plum buzzed with clouds of bees punctuated by a couple of red admiral butterflies alighting here and there, now and then, in the manner of butterflies. The plum tree grew from the root stock of the almond, a huge sucker that came up in the first or second spring, too vital to destroy. I dug it up, transplanted it, watered it. It thrives. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t start something wonderful from root stock.

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Mourning Cloaks also migrated through for a few days.

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Bee flies have been buzzing the trees and especially the Nepeta (catmint), as have bumblebees.

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I don’t profess to know flies, but these cute ones were all over the wild plum, too, everybody doing their spring thing.

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This female sweat bee fought off swarms of males while mating with one on the wild plum.

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The peach tree flowered next, tiny pink blossoms that didn’t attract too many bees…

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… but there were some!

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Next came the crabapple, growing more dazzling every day.

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Just not as many bees as I expected on the crabapple, though there were some sweat bees, honeybees, a few bumblebees, and some digger bees like this Centris. Note the distinctive giant eyes of this genus.

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The heirloom apple just a few days ago, as this round of storms began to materialize.

Meanwhile in the woods this month, wallflowers and paintbrush, cactus and mustards, Astragalus and TownsendiaPhasaria and more all seemed to bloom earlier than usual.

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Indian paintbrush blossomed a couple of weeks early, and hummingbirds arrived shortly after. But not very many…

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Puccoon is like that old friend that you see once a year if you’re lucky, for just a few days over spring break, and you’re so delighted and you pick up right where you left off laughing and talking and catching up; only when you see puccoon, you’re just happy and you both laugh and there’s no need for conversation.

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We haven’t spent much time on the canyon rim this spring, once we figured out that the growing nest in the cottonwood just off from the bench belonged to a skittish pair of redtail hawks. Here she’s sitting, but not setting. Once her eggs were laid she hasn’t spooked off the nest; she lies flat on top, just the round of her head and her beak giving away her presence as she incubates her precious eggs. Philip says they haven’t seen near the usual number of redtails on their side of the valley, but there’s been a pair of harriers over the fields.

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Six kinds of carrots, last year’s seeds, sowed early. Maybe they’ll make it, maybe not. More seeds on order just in case, or for a second crop.

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These people I live among, we celebrate tulips, bee trees, planting seeds, and redtail hawks, the rites of spring. We celebrate the wild life, the fruits and fields and feasts of our valleys, the stars in the sky. We honor the land and cherish our relationships with it. What else can we do?

We write our Representatives, march with millions, endeavor to make change. It’s an uphill battle, that’s for sure, against greed and corruption, against entropy. It’s a sense not just of personal mortality, but of planetary mortality, the sweetness to this spring.

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While friends march in cities for the Peoples Climate March, I stay home and repair myself. Though I made a sign, my back has been too tender to take to the streets.

It’s been a brutal month for a sensitive person. It’s so hard to keep up with the dreadful actions coming from the government, the crimes against nature and humanity. The pronouncements, executive orders, earth-killing life-stealing human-rights-smashing bills and deregulations, the assault on American public lands that belong to us the people and not to multi-national corporations bent on extraction. Not just once or twice a week, but a pile of them every single day, day after day. Mutterings of war, deep worries for the future. It’s sickening, is what it is, more and more often literally.

I worry far less now for my own life than I do for the lives of all the other living things I share this place with: first of course the bees, honeys and bumbles, diggers and long-horned and sweat; also the trees and flowers and shrubs, the deer and bears, and the mountain lions here; and lions far away, all the magnificent wild felines of the world: snow leopard, clouded leopard, the jaguar sentenced to be fenced out of expanding her range northward as she needs to with climate change… Any single thought leads in a dozen different desperate directions.

Every living creature on the planet is at risk with this Kleptocracy, in the hands of a madman dedicated to further eroding the planet herself and the lives of all beings. It’s encouraging today to see thousands of people on the streets, and listen to legislators and activists around the country. Fighting the sense of overwhelm, I write letters, make calls, support friends; cherishing the life and beauty around me, I prune trees, plant seeds, pull weeds, and let my love for Nature grow along with my heartache. What else can I do?

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Two Down

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Ojo cuddling in simpler times, before he started using up his nine lives.

Seven to go. That I know of. But who can know what life-threatening predicaments they get into when they’re out of sight in the wild world? Near-misses with fox, coyote, owl; nasty things they eat and throw up that you don’t see; how many of their nine lives they may have lost that you never knew about.

Election day was stressful enough, but add to that that Ojo cat was fine one hour and the next curled up tight and trembling in pain. As I watched with growing dismay the turning of the planetary tide, I also worried for my little cat’s life.

That crisis was diagnosed as constipation. The vet felt hard feces. Maybe there was another lump even then that she couldn’t feel for the fecal mass. Two days of extra powdered psyllium husk and double doses of laxatone and he was pooping like a champ again and back to running up trees at full speed. Whew! Something went right that week.

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You try your best to protect them. You get all their shots on time, you feed them well and monitor the output, you bring them in before dark so they stand a better chance of surviving wild predators. I didn’t let these kittens outside for their first eight months: first one thing and then another made it seem prudent.

Then you go and accidentally leave out an innocuous-seeming pill, and his life is at stake. Last Friday in an awful deja vu Ojo seemed fine first thing in the morning, then became listless, wouldn’t eat, didn’t follow me around talking as usual. I’d better make sure it’s just constipation again, I thought, and took him to Doc that afternoon.

Doc palpated his belly and looked at me gravely. The buzzing started in my head when he said “…Leiomyosarcoma…could have been aggravated by that Advil.” He felt a golfball-size tumor in Ojo’s intestine. The next thing I heard was “blah blah blah exploratory surgery.” He stood there waiting for me to say something. “Now?” I choked out. “Tonight. A week can make a big difference. This is an aggressive cancer, it likes to move around. We’ve got to try to stop it from spreading.”

And so I left my little black cat in a steel cage that afternoon. I drove home without him, thinking A cat is a hole in your heart where you pour money. Also, I kept this in perspective. He is just a kitty; all over the world at this same moment, there are families hearing similar news or worse about their mother or their child. All over the world there are millions of other sentient being suffering atrocities at the hands of humans in their insatiable greed: orangutans slaughtered in the wake of expanding palm oil plantations, human refugees fleeing despots and civil wars, and hate crimes on the rise in our own great country.

So I held my own sadness together until I got home, and then I cried about as hard for an hour as I did the whole day long a week earlier. I find I can have hope in small things, though, and settled myself down more quickly than after my dark day of despair when the election numbness wore off. Doc called later that evening to tell me the tumor was out, he’d resected a small section of bowel, and Ojo was doing well.

My friends held me in their own ways during a nerve-wracking weekend. Diane offered me tickets to the classical concert at the Blue Sage that night for a brilliant performance of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, which I shared with Cynthia, who drove there and back with her heated seats on high, a ridiculously sublime comfort to my fretting soul.

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And lest she get jealous of all the attention I’m paying her brother, here is a token photo of Topaz on a typical perch, like any good female cat, looking down on the rest of us.

Doc let me visit Ojo Saturday morning before starting his day full of surgeries and was optimistic, though the cat, to be frank, looked pathetic. Michael picked me up in town and let me play with his kitty while my car was in the shop. Cyn gave up her ticket that night for Brahms and Chopin, and Ellie offered me a seat in the second row (how the fingers flew over the keyboard! how the music moved me). Philip loaned me his car when the key finally refused to turn in my ignition. So much to be grateful for.

I missed him so much the past two nights. He puts me to sleep and wakes me up nuzzling his wet little nose and kneading his velvet paws into the arm I drape around him. When I went to visit Ojo this morning, Doc let me bring him home.

“I think he’ll do better there,” he said. “He just sits here looking around like What’s the plan?

A week ago on FaceTime, I showed Amy Ojo through the window, pawing to get inside. I told her how much it had cost to get him through his Advil-induced kidney failure. “I’d keep that cat inside the house and locked in a box,” she laughed. Well, Amy, this one’s for you:

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He only needs to stay in Badger’s crate for a couple of days, I hope, before he can have the run of the house again. He needs to eat incremental small amounts to keep his digestive system moving, but not too much to stress the stitched up bowel. 

“Time will give me answers that nothing else can,” said Doc, when I asked him how we’d know if the cancer has spread. Yes, it always does. Time will give us answers to this, and to the many and much bigger questions that loom over us now. In the meantime, all we can do is love who we love, be grateful for the good in our lives, let the joy and the sorrow rise in and move through us, and offer compassion to those we meet of any species who are suffering.

 

 

Holiday Hands and Cookies

 

Pamela grating nutmeg on farm fresh eggnog in the ancestral Cantonese punchbowl.

Pamela grating nutmeg on farm fresh eggnog in the ancestral Cantonese punchbowl.

“Farm hands,” she says as I turn the camera on her, grating nutmeg onto the eggnog. Two gallons, at least, of deep yellow, delectable concoction, consisting largely of homegrown eggs and liquor. The Bad Dog Ranch girls came early to mix the eggnog in the ancestral punchbowl that I’ve talked about but have not used since I’ve lived here. In the family since the late 1800’s, it’s one of those heirlooms that only came on out very special occasions. It’s been in a trunk for twenty years. Poor thing. Like an opal it needs to breathe, to see the sun from time to time. The punchbowl had a very nice afternoon, did a great job, and got a lot of admiring attention.

The Holiday Cookie Exchange has quickly become a favorite tradition in the past few years up here on the mesa. Each woman brings a couple of dozen cookies, and a tin or tub to take home that many. People pull out all the cookie stops with some of their creations. This year we had seventeen lovely women from all three towns and the valleys and mesas scattered among them. There were occasional hijinks from the dogs, who were otherwise gracious. Snow lay across the land outside, still tall on every twig, on fences, outlining everything white, but paths and patios were clear; the ground was so warm when the storm hit last night that snow didn’t stick too much to bricks and concrete. I knew we’d be warm inside, all our happy warm energy, and kept the door to the mudroom open, where boots filled the floor and coats, hats, and bags were stacked on every surface.

 

Green tea - white chocolate sugar cookies

Green tea – white chocolate sugar cookies

Earl Grey shortbread

Earl Grey shortbread

Salted Nut something fantastic, with a frisson of marshmallow.

Salted Nut Roll Bars, with a frisson of marshmallow.

Delectable handmade Pizzelles, with a garnis of pecan sandies.

Delectable handmade Pizzelles, with a garnis of pecan sandies.

Classic assortment

Classic assortment

Chocolate Kisses, like a cross between a truffle and shortbread.

Chocolate Kisses, like a cross between a truffle and shortbread.

Perfect Molasses cookies.

Perfect Molasses cookies.

Three-nut baklava, yum.

Three-nut baklava, yum.

Kahlua chocolate shortbread

Kahlua chocolate shortbread

A delicious surprise, club crackers magically toasted with almonds, brown sugar and butter.

A delicious surprise, club crackers magically toasted with almonds, brown sugar and butter.

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It wasn’t possible to taste even one of each kind of cookie, there were just too many. Most had labels; there was a small table devoted to gluten-free offerings. Fortunately, some people brought spiced nuts, ham biscuits, apples and cheese and crackers, to balance the sugar fiesta. The holiday music of my childhood, choral and instrumental Christmas works, played in the background of waves of conversation. All that sweeping and rearranging furniture paid off, creating lots of smaller sitting and standing areas, so that seventeen broke into five or six more intimate groupings, rearranging themselves through the afternoon, and each got to visit with all. Our stories wove together, catching up the threads of the neighborhood, the past weeks and months of our lives since we’d last seen each other, pulling the safety net of love in our community a little tighter this winter day.

Everyone also got to fill their tubs or plates with more cookies than they brought, and somehow there were still dozens left over. How did that happen? The math didn’t add up but the sense of plenty flowed through us.

 

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“Old hands,” said one of them as I was taking pictures. “We all have old hands,” I said. And lucky to have them, I thought. The stories they could tell. The meals they’ve prepared, the fences they’ve built, the babies they’ve held. The lives they’ve lived, these hands all gathered here around this generosity of cookies.

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Well, all of us have old hands or farm hands or both, except for the one beautiful daughter who came, a young mother herself, and she brought a baby! With the baby snugged to her chest in a cozy wrap, Rocky couldn’t get enough of them both. If he’s ever seen a baby that young it was when he was a baby himself. He was fascinated, and maybe a little jealous. The big catahoulas, bouncy as Tiggers, relegated upstairs or outside for the whole afternoon, were jealous of the littlest dog, who got to sit on the lap with the baby. But several people took a break from the cookies and walked out through the snowy woods to the canyon rim; the big dogs got their joy escorting guests on their walks. I wallowed in gratitude all afternoon.

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Marla brought a beautiful strudel for dessert! Like anyone needed dessert. And it was gone in no time. Some people went home, saying “I need a nap!” Some people took their nap in situ.

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The baby behaved as well as the dogs, as cloudy afternoon wore on to dusk. People drifted off as they needed to leave, to check on a puppy, to feed a husband, to get home before dark; half a dozen stayed to watch the last of the Broncos game on TV. Suddenly it felt like any holiday I ever spent with family growing up, sitting around chatting and laughing, sated, with the soft drone of a football game (even though we were all women, it struck me sweetly) lulling everyone off to sleep. 

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Neighbors, Strangers, and Friends

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Setting aside bugs and bees for awhile, this summer I spent a great deal of time preparing a show for the Creamery Arts Center in Hotchkiss. Over the past two years, as Senior Outreach Coordinator for the non-profit artits’ cooperative, I have accomplished two things. Initially I set in place a rotation of Creamery volunteer artists to visit various senior centers and homes, coordinating with their respective activities directors, and bringing demonstrations and workshops to location bound seniors. Earlier this year, I gave up the coordinator position to another volunteer in order to pursue the second facet of the Creamery’s outreach program, honoring and showcasing some of the community’s senior citizens through art.

Now through October 7, the Creamery features an audio-visual installation, “Neighbors, Strangers, and Friends,” celebrating the rich history of the North Fork Valley through the voices of nineteen community elders, and their portraits by me! I had so much fun doing this project, and I want to thank everyone who consented to be interviewed, and everyone who helped and, especially North Fork Valley Heart and Soul for their support. A year and a half ago, I put the word out that I wanted to interview people over sixty-five who had lived in the valley all their lives or who had chosen to come to it later.  At first I didn’t get a lot of response, and I also felt kind of awkward asking strangers to open up to me like that. It took awhile, but eventually one person would suggest another, who would suggest another, and so on. I enlisted a few friends. I heard a lot of wonderful stories. Everyone has stories that other people can enjoy and learn from. Sometimes it just takes someone wanting to hear them.

The exhibit includes a soundtrack that loops from the introduction of these unique voices through their stories of pioneer days, the Depression era, fruit history, historic floods and fires, and more, to thoughts on life, love, aging, dying and death. Individual voices and stories are woven chronologically and topically through a two and a half hour trajectory that is a work of art in itself.

I hope people will bring their knitting or a cup of coffee, or get an ice cream up front, and come set a spell in the gallery; listen to these stories of valley lore and unique personal experiences, and enjoy looking around the room at these wonderful faces so full of life. You’ll see some of your own friends and neighbors, and probably some strangers as well. The soundtrack plays through a vintage-looking Cathedral radio, and if it’s not loud enough, please turn it up so you can hear it comfortably. The volume is the round knob on the left front. There are plenty of comfy seats.

We all have stories. Some of us have a lot of stories, and some of us have one defining story, but all of us have stories within the stories of our lives.  I feel like I’ve helped some people to tell their stories. I hope they’re happy with the results. These people started out for me as neighbors, strangers, and friends. Today, I feel so honored that these women and men have entrusted their stories to me, and so grateful for their candor, their humor, their trust. I think of them all as friends, those I’ve known for 20 years, and those I recently met through this project. Each person who participated will receive their portrait from the display, and also a DVD of their video interview. A common refrain in the interviews was, “I wish I had asked mama (or dad, or grandmother…) about that.” Now the families of these elders will be able to learn from and celebrate them and their wisdom for years to come.

Throughout human existence, elders have been revered for their wisdom, the insights that simply being human for a long time has given them. We’ve lost some of that reverence in our culture over the past half century or so. I’ve seen it go since I was little. Our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends, when they get old, they sometimes get forgotten, and they have so much to offer those of us coming up after them, learning what it means to be human, which is a long, complicated endeavor; whether we follow in their footsteps or outside their boxes, our elders have a lot to keep giving to our community. Here, everywhere in our country, older people get forgotten in our culture. The wisdom and the being of people in their seventies, eighties, nineties, is such an important balance to the energy we focus on youth and doing. Our culture focuses too much on youthful beauty, on spending energy externally in getting and achieving.

Please come to the show and join me in celebrating your friends and neighbors, none of them really strangers, just neighbors you haven’t yet met. Please ask your parents and grandparents, if you are still able, about your history, your own story. Please pay attention to your elders, all of them, your family, your neighbors, your friends. “Neighbors, Strangers, and Friends” is on display at the Creamery Arts Center, 165 West Bridge Street in Hotchkiss, Colorado. Summer hours are Monday – Saturday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.