on water and choices and the stories we tell ourselves

Somebody needs to just say this. The people and politicians of California have for generations insisted upon their right to flagrantly wasteful water policies/behaviors. They’ve ignored common sense, reason, data, weather, and every marker possible for the finite nature of the liquid upon which human life depends. They still water streets and sidewalks and yards and parks and golf courses and resorts and alfalfa fields in the desert with abandon. They still think it their god-given right to grow the crops of the tropics in semi-arid or outright arid plains. So this week’s leaderly howls of a sudden drought “emergency” seem more than a little off-planet. And utterly disingenuous.

Some of us—many of my neighbors out in the Mojave, for instance—shifted our consumption of water a long time ago. I changed how I shower and do dishes within four days of first entering this state 28 years ago, for example. I wouldn’t put a plug of grass in here if my life depended on it. And I never wash a vehicle. But we can’t drive a car to a town without crossing over-irrigated roadways, can’t walk on a sidewalk that hasn’t been recently sprinkled, can’t find many grand fields without huge-armed sprayers marching to the horizons, can’t find many places where city-folk and their DWPs haven’t already looked into stealing what little water we actually still have. (Orange County’s pushing hard to do precisely that from an aquifer a little north of where I sit right now.) Why is it that so many won’t yield? Why are so many people so willing to pretend that there are no consequences whatsoever to their choices? Why?

I am not yet a full-time denizen of the state of California, though this is not for lack of trying. The state is hostile to small businesses, its economy feeds the fakes and poseurs first and last and often in-between, resources are divvied up with startling inequality on purpose, and yet I find in the far reaches of the Mojave Desert some of the most decent people I have ever known. Out here most of us have learned to make do on just enough water, no more. If we are ever to make it as a species, we will have to learn to do this across many boards and rejoice in our proven capacity to meet a challenge with wit and the good sense to say “Enough!” before we are forced to call calf-rope. So I wish to live here permanently. With excellent cause.

I am uneasy, however, about the way the political leaders of this land continue to behave on serious issues like water, for it spells doom for this rural desert that gave up citified pretenses long, long ago. Given the urban and agricultural areas’ track records on un-emergencified water, I fear we may be left without ours so that their streets, their golf courses, their yards, their wasteful fields can continue to be watered on schedule. The public statements this week on the “unprecedented drought emergency” in this state—and the utter lack of civic ownership of the problem—are discomfiting, to say the least.

Emergency thinking on problems this huge is like embarking on an ocean in a teacup and presuming one’s self sufficiently vesseled. As I watch politicians scurrying around to raise the battle cry for which color teacup they are going to captain, I cannot help but wonder: does humanity have the gumption or intelligence to face down the mauling forces of uber-perverted capitalism? Can we turn anything around from our teacups? For the sake of the desert I already call home in every cell of my being, I pray so. I surely do.

the view from here

the view from here

on tbt – on a great contrarian soul alongside

He was a Cinco de Mayo dog in ’02, this youngster who came alongside us.

cp1We named him after a tough little opal mining town in southern Australia, eagerly awaited his arrival in our home, and tipped our world on its ears to receive him. He needed sheep and took us to be them. He didn’t like us for five years straight and showed it: but if we behaved well via his rules, he tolerated us. Barely. And with many an unconcealed sigh.

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Contrarian to the last dead cells on all four feet and as persnickety a creature as could exist, Coober Pedy taught me on Day 1 (and on nearly every day since) that I know nothing useful about dogs or anything else. He runs hard at life in every instance and doesn’t know the meaning of quit. He considers it his job to keep the beings on our property in line, and does this without. fail.

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Except for Paris and Salem, he’s been everywhere we’ve been since he showed up. He canoes, hikes, hitches rides on bike trailers and our cars, walks/runs: at all times heeling us, keeping us in line, dealing with us like errant charges left in his care by a forgetful god parent somewhere.

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But on the day in ’07 when Cle Elum, our young Saint Bernard puppy, got hit by a car and we had to dig a grave for him in the woods, Coober Pedy stared into my eyes with an unmistakable look of yearning and connection: I was one of his humans, Stewart was the other, and this would be for forever. Nothing changed in his disposition whatsoever. We were still tiresome sheep some days, too, but from then on he valued us. Deeply. And showed it. And we have done the same, imperfectly sometimes by his druthers.

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Oh, if that could be enough. We have worked as hard as we could from the outset to keep him from jumping, especially in his first two years—trying to keep those world-championship OFA-certified genetics and bones/joints as healthy as possible, with an eye toward a long, happy hip-healthy life—and were relatively successful. Then came the post-Kansas ice storm day in 2005, when the rest of our dogs were not complying with his herding efforts fast enough, and he sailed through the air at our Great Dane’s hind quarters and missed and landed hard on the ice. The vet said it wasn’t broken, only sprained badly, and when he kept favoring it for two months we went back again. There was nothing to be done but let it heal, but she warned us then that when he got older, this hip might be prone to arthritis. She was right.

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For years it has worsened, especially in cold weather, despite all the remedies we’ve tried. And for the last several months, the joint seems to have frozen fully. We lift him when he needs to get up, and he powers forward on will alone to walk some with the rest of us (who else could keep us in line?), and then we help him to lie down again. He cries from the pain involved, and nothing we have tried seems to help it. Except reiki, which offers some relief—some days he can even get up and down on his own—but the end is looming and none of us can stomach that yet. And so I spend this part of throwback Thursday trying to come to terms with that fact and the memories we have made.

s cp 2We account ourselves lucky to have known this irascible soul, and wish never to part.

cp s1We want him still alongside, herding us, expressing disapproval in every line for every step out of the paths he’s set ahead free of danger. We want him nursing his favorite toy, ignoring the rest of us even when he could hear just fine and now when he can’t.

IMG_3167We want him in the canoe at BWCAW this summer, in the surf at Lake Superior, in the desert facing down all comers. We want him with us. Contrarians need other contrarians in order to survive. He is ours, this great big, ornery OES. And so we delay, unable to find the courage to let him go as long as there is a bright, hot fire in his eyes for living in spite of any pain. And today that light still burns. One day soon it will go, he will let us know it is done, and we will let go. Not one heartbeat sooner.

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If there is a god, I would like this being to bless this great contrarian soul. Bless and keep him, for always, and grant him a trail beyond here where his charges can ensure him healthy hips and bones and ears for ever. This would be a most excellent use of omnipotence, a canceling out of the impotence his charges here have shown.

on tbt – on coloring the stories we walk through

“We are all born into someone else’s story,” a dear teacher and friend, Jeanne Boydston, once said to me. The line still strikes me as true, as clear-headed a look at existence as looks come near and most worthy of the woman who uttered it with a wry grin and a gentle nod of her head to the fates. Jeanne was not quite of my parents’ generation nor of mine, a woman between but from far enough south that she could speak such truths un-dainty, un-gussied up, un-dodged.

sc0003ae1dThat one true sentence has come often to mind as I sort through old family photos, preparing them for my descendants in the ways proper of elders. There are plenty of pictures of me as a small child—moving pictures and still—but I’ve not yet found a single one of my mother and me.

She was always the gorgeous one behind the camera, dressing us, fixing our hair just so, telling us to smile and stop fidgeting, recording family for all times, ensuring that the photos were taken, developed, colorized if needed. “Well, the world is in color,” she responded to my long-ago query about why this baby photo was drenched in pale pinks and blues when the original (which we also had) was clearly black and white. “If the world is in color, you should be, too. So I paid extra to have it done.” Period. That was it. I went on with living and didn’t think consciously about that again until last night.

sc0001d1f0All along I knew I broke into my mother’s dreams for her life by being born a girl or at all, for when I showed up she still knew she was beautiful and she worked in a bank and had nice clothes and a new car and greatly enjoyed all that until she was pressured to leave it by the church that she joined when I was four, and so I began writing early and solely for myself, to keep my own record of the stories she and the other adults were telling, to make sure the story of my life wouldn’t get written by people who wanted the rough edges smoothed and the hard times forgotten whole cloth. Writing was an issue from the week I turned five and pencilled into the margins of my Bible a short letter to God in a church service. From that week forward, Mama and I were at open odds. Not always, but often.

So when writing became my life’s work, Mama disapproved. By then I had a good twenty years in of trying unsuccessfully to beat our odds—of doing something of which she would approve, of bringing her some of the joy she brought me. Writing, it seemed, especially when I got an award and recognition and then eventually a book contract, would surely do that, no? Oh no. There was no chance while Mama was alive to write for her. Even the goodnesses, the color-drenched memories of childhood, the signal events of us being well in the world, our triumphs, brought her no comfort. She only ever read one story all the way through (1st grade) and then never again: my writing would stray from her story, she knew, and that was too much. How, why would I say such things for strangers? Who were they, to deserve to know such things? She was right in so many ways, for some people do in fact ridicule and demean writers for whatever we offer, some humans believe themselves better than others who have struggled and dared to speak of it, some people don’t want their real deeds mentioned out loud or at all, and others simply don’t like to read. So be. I wrote on anyway, for writing is truth and beauty and death-kissed breath to me. Without it, I do not exist.

But when the last thing I shared with my mother, my first published book (Point Last Seen, 1997), got me disowned in the first few pages for two years straight, I decided to carry on alone and never to speak of it again with her. In Mama’s world, you could always fix the pain of any story by telling it differently, by cleaning it up, by skipping straight over the ruts that tripped you up so badly you skinned your nose on somebody else’s blacktop path. She was more kin to many other people about us than to me in this instance. I have a mortal dread that silence will fuse the asphalt to my face, to my bones, and everybody knows you can’t see jack siccum through hot tar and rocks anyway. I wanted to write through my scars well enough to reach through her pain and say to this woman who never stopped being the beautiful center of our family, “See, you did do so much good, Mama. See how well we all turned out? You paid the price of your raising, extra by all accounts and silences, and we got the benefit of that.”

Homely as ever, with none of her physical grace and little of her fire, I hid my writing away, kept silent about it, but took to saying these things to her when I could, trying to navigate through the boulders between us, but she did not want comfort from me. I saw her take it from her church family, and for this I was both glad for her and achingly sad for the two of us, permanently estranged despite our unbreakable bonds of love and stories untold.

Now that Mama’s walked on from us and I can think of her without weeping every time, many of my writings turn her direction no matter where they started, and I am unsure why, but I suspect it has something to do with the powerful lightness of being that came with me being born into her story. For all time, I will be her first daughter, the perennial heathen, the one who would not toe the line. The one who determined that since our stories—all of them, every line—are writ in full living color, then any telling anew of them must pay extra to do the same. This I learned from my mother.

on dress shoes and drag-assed burritos

They dress for dinner, my father’s generation, and this is a point of pride for them and me now. No matter how small the occasion or how family-friendly the restaurant or home, when they leave the house for it, they are dressed in Sunday best with manners fit for high society.

For a decade or so in my early adulthood, I didn’t understand that this mattered and, worse yet, spurred on by my mother in particular, I resisted it, too. After one particularly fiery argument—in which my clothes passed billing, but my shoes had me catching holy hell on a planet that had not yet invented hot mitts—I silently went along to that family gathering determined that, no matter what, from that moment to my last breath, no one could ever rightly accuse me of being a clothes horse without lying through at least two teeth. The vow took so well that I’ve mostly not thought of it since, but life has a way of putting such memories on boomerangs slung hard into now.

We made supper last night for our nearest neighbor. He is a dead ringer for Walter on the Peta Wilson La Femme Nikita series, complete with the long gray ponytail and thin headband and the snappy wardrobe for all activities, and one of the most likable people I’ve ever met. Undeterred by our mid-rehabbed house and yard, he visits often and we have the best conversations, but lately we’ve been too busy and have only connected over the farm gate a few times in passing. Last night the plan was that we’d make homemade tamales, corn-and-pepper mush, and strawberry daquiris, followed up by my famous sopapillas and desert honey and then a nice hot fire under the wide starry Mojave sky. He was bringing pine knots for the fire and I was counting on three people nursing mugs of Sonoran hot chocolate (brewed with a touch of Madagascar bourbon pure vanilla extract, hand-grated cinnamon and nutmeg, and a tiny dollop of marshmallow fluff) before the first shooting star made its arc.

Because hannah forgot to pre-soak the tamales or put milk on the grocery list, the menu went improvisational by mid-afternoon. Still all homemade, of course: pan-seared drag-assed burritos with side salads, strawberry daquiris, followed up with pumpkin pie topped by hand-whipped whipping cream and a dusting of hand-grated nutmeg, with an option for hot tea by the fire. (Or iced water, which rum inexplicably sets up cravings for, even in the most undistinguished of palates.)

The ad-hoc food and mixed drinks came off signally perfect, ready when our neighbor stepped through the door. His shiny black leather loafers and black textured shirt made (sock-footed, t-shirted) me smile and, while we visited and I plated the food, I remembered my mother and that last quarrel about my shoes.

IMG_8756They were Birkenstocks, closed-toed, expensive and comfortable, brand new and intended to last. (This is a photo from 21 years later and, yes, I still wear them.) We were going to a family reunion, and I’d chosen clothes that I’d worn for a Money Magazine photo shoot for their 20th anniversary issue and a slew of speaking engagements: red cotton shirt from Banana Republic (before it went city and lost its style) and tan duck skirt. These duds had been acceptable for the nation, I figured, so I was hoping they’d pass my mother’s muster. She glanced over them with only the briefest pause of pain and disapproval, and headed for my feet with a working woman’s focus and drive. “What are you wearing on your feet?”

sc0002c0df01There are times when being lost for words is a genuine talent. I responded by bending forward to stare at my shoes while sliding one forward and tipping it up, toe to floor and skirt raised slightly, so she could see the fine craftsmanship unimpeded.

What are those things? They look like boats.”

If a woman from the lower end of the Mississippi River brings boats into a conversation off the water, you are in trouble.

“They’re Birkenstocks, Mom. Really good for your feet.”

“Walk over to that door and back,” she said. And I did. Promptly, with just one more remark about podiatry and my high arches and these shoes.

“I don’t care how good they are. You look like a duck. You can’t go out in public in such no-account excuses for shoes. Go get some of mine out of the closet. We can wad up some tissue paper into the toes so they fit.”

I lost my talent for being lost for words about then in my effort to avoid wearing size 10 church shoes to the reunion, but my mother—despite bringing up the facts that I was off in college studying something nobody else knew anything about (anthropology) and had I lost some part of my mind in that desert in Africa or not?—lost the battle. I went to the reunion in my own clothes and shoes and, to my knowledge, nobody got a photograph of what was on my feet. (Though it is important to add, I believe, that every woman there got treated to a lecture about my footwear, and I was summoned to each session to demonstrate my ‘duck walk’ for them as they took guesses as to how badly these shoes were going to manhandle my spine. My father’s oldest sister, always my least favorite for highly deserved cause, hit it out the back forty with a suggestion that some part of my brain was already showing signs of malfunction.)

All afternoon I smiled and showed nothing but the respect due to elders because that is the rule and I actually agree with it (they have been here longer than me, and that alone takes some stomach and guts), but I was never more glad to leave kin than on that day. My mother, by contrast, went home feeling so validated by it all that she never again, not a single time, said a word about anything I wore. Shoes, skirts, trousers: nothing. She might occasionally cut an eye or a sigh my direction, but she never said another word to me. And, for my part, I exercised one of the perks of adulthood and being a single working mother and stayed outside the Mississippi state line when a family reunion was underway.

That was likely a mistake on my part, I realized last night while tipping the light rum into the blender for daquiris. As perhaps has been my approach to haberdashery. It’s not that I have always tried to dress down, but that I genuinely like cottons and linens and corduroys and non-polystered, un-prissy clothes with Blundies or Birks. The more handmade and mis-matched and wrinkle-happy, the better. All better suited, like me, for the backwoods than Sunday School. All requiring less thought than breathing and leaving my funds and time free to serve other purposes and venues than looks and shopping malls and fashion trends. My mother could not make peace with any of that or much else about me, but after the shoe dust-up, she let it alone, right down to the last time we laid eyes on one another. I admired her dresses and hose and heeled shoes to the end and often told her so. But I wouldn’t have donned a pair of stockings and high heels to save my life or somebody’s I liked a whole lot better, either.

I am not opposed to clothes, of course, or even clothes horses. I have dear friends and now a spouse who dress beautifully. I like this for them, admire them for sticking up for their choices, and pointblank refuse to join them. (The world has enough of that; surely it can do without me.) Years ago, as part of my senior thesis at the Gene Autry Museum in Los Angeles (now promoted to merely The Autry) in its first year of existence, I systematically experimented with how visitors were treated based on their clothing, and did not like what I learned. In recent years, distressed by societal mores that don’t reflect any of my values, I’ve begun to dress down more on purpose, precisely because I so disagree with judging human beings by such superficial measures and so I think it important for some of us to skew the data set. I utterly detest the notion that ‘first impressions’ based on looks are valid. I pride myself instead on looking for the soul inside, and it is there that I put all my energies.

The question has so long ago been asked and fully answered that I simply don’t think much about it anymore. I like to sew or knit my own clothes, I avoid brands that exploit their workers or put their brand on the fabric, and I’d rather slug cod liver oil by the barrel than spend more than one hour per year purchasing things to wear. Other people have that all covered; I attend to other things, and, to be frank, most days I wouldn’t notice what someone else was wearing if s/he showed up buck naked. It’s just not my thing.

So the arrival of our neighbor, nicely dressed to convey his respect for our ramshackle, but oh so welcoming little abode and for us, the people within, woke me up and reminded me how much I appreciate people who dress for dinner. Some portion of that, surely, I owe to my mother. In another decade or so, my Birks are likely to finally die. In her honor, I plan now to bury and not replace them. Blundstones are more comfy anyway and cost less to boot. Especially in Alice Springs. When I believe Mississippi is ready for its next little earthquake, maybe I’ll cross the Pacific again for a new pair. My mother will turn in her grave, and things will be normal again in my world.

on reveille, bacchanalias public, and feeble rays of hope

From the depths of sleep, I burst into long lines of people with my small daughter’s hand clasped tightly in mine, as we dodged and raced along to our places in this carnaval, rain weeping off live oaks into grass-rutted paths, the bacchanalia just ahead, in a huge old white Southern mansion with columns starting to give way to rot, and hundreds of people inside already, steam pouring from our bodies, our brilliantly hued soggy costumes easing into a slow twirl of readiness and wild mirth.

In the lines I saw all the old white men I’ve ever known, gussied up to their nines and dancing their bacchanals of glee and sadness, arms raised and eyes weary and yet brimming with the fires of their youth, and we two danced with them all feathers and beads and me aching to ask them to intervene in what the women had planned but no one could hear a word, just the music of that second line ahead, and them raging the whole into their dances instead, eyes to the ground or ceiling, keen on the next step.

The dream came on the heels of a reality that I bump into every day, living near the largest US desert military base in the world. Complete with its very own town-sized replica of Baghdad (‘Little Baghdad’, we non-militial locals call it) and helos maneuvering through night and day skies, the engines of wars worlds away. I weep for the losses, rage at the rich old men making decisions to send our young people off not just to be cut down for nothing but to attack, wound, maim hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians by now, one person or child at a time.

helos MojaveIn the Valley of Elah coalesced all this again last night, in its stark unflinching look at the war-riddled bodies and lives of our soldiers and that flag hung upside down in the international signal for distress serving as my single two points of comfort in the whole film. I have not laid eyes on the U.S. flag without feeling afraid since the Supreme Court handed the 2000 election to George W. Bush and his dogs of war (with apologies to actual dogs). I knew then that my nation would invade and wreck Iraq. I could not look at the flag without open terror and nausea. The desert was humming with energies, I knew it, and those would quicken mightily the morning after his inauguration. The trumping up of a case for war, the propaganda that far too many of my fellow citizens didn’t just swallow but preached in the angry melodies of madness run amok, was utterly expected, and I grieved and wept on that day in 2003 when the invasion started. Sitting inside a midwestern military base where my husband was serving, I listened to reveille in the morning and taps at night that day and the next and the next, holding a little camouflaged New Testament like the one being issued to the troops along with their glasses and physicals, and knew then that the Iraqi people were facing not just music and bullets but all the horrors of wars ginned up by the righteousness of the wicked.

http://youtu.be/SGnZxcS7VKA (Reveille)

The young people around me were not evil. They were good, many of them downright decent, most of them having few options for a meaningful life at home and hoping to better their stations this way. I don’t know how many I’ve heard, then or since, talk about their hopes of affording college when they returned from their enlistments. And yet the body count still rises, Al Queda is openly active in Iraq (something that simply could never have happened under Saddam Hussein), Iraqi infants are being born with their tiny bodies mangled by birth defects caused by the poisons my nation unloosed on them, and the sight of the U.S. flag still shakes me to the core. George W. Bush, however, is being feted by the current president, living out his happy, oil-enriched inheritanced life as his presidential library begins its work and this nation crumbles ever more into our endless self-driven wars against foes that we have made on purpose by our sheer intransigence and unwillingness to acknowledge and value the humanity of those with whom we disagree. Neither he nor a member of his team has as yet faced a single serious consequence for their deliberate lies or their choices, and there have as yet been no public reckonings here. He paints. Paintings, no less. The man who declared the Iraq war over on 1 May 2003—that infamous thumbs up in front of the “Mission Accomplished” banner aboard the USS Abraham Lincolnpaints.

It’s this odd detail that I can’t shake, how one rich old white man could deliberately break a country and ensure the killings of more than a hundred thousand of its entirely innocent citizens as well as more than 5,000 of our own (plus untold numbers who are so broken of body and mind that life itself is hard to manage anymore) and then retire in comfort to put paint on canvas with brushes. How is that possible? Would not the banality of your own existence choke out the ability to hold a brush or fissure any smile for the self-portrait at some point? Would not the death toll eventually break through and engender carving knives to canvas instead? Would not some sense of all who are suffering still for your actions still the heart and put you on a lecture circuit to end all wars forever? But no, the guns of war are fired by mighty engines of capitalism run amok and vendors like George W. Bush and his merry, angry fomenters travel the markets like spice merchants of old, only more wily and less principled. Anyone who rides the forces they’ve all unleashed gets treated as a hero, while the young men and women who have to run the actual guns go to theaters of horror that can never end. And as they go, they ensure that more ordinary people will have better reasons for hating US-Americans and everything we stand for.

http://youtu.be/Wn_iz8z2AGw (Taps)

These aren’t wars of conscience; these aren’t wars to save civilization: these are wars for profits and they feed on the raging fears of a populace that no longer thinks for itself. And for every death, our own society breaks a little more, and people like me watch the helos on maneuver and wonder how long it will be before they come for us, too, and whether or not saner, more humane heads can be found before that happens? Or will we simply get what we so richly deserve for letting our politicians and military-defense/oil-and-plunder corporations drive our souls so hard for so long? And so I weep and find a weak ray of hope in the international symbol for distress, for there is none other to be had for me in my nation’s flag until we have called fully to heel our unholy dogs of war. And bound up the wounds of all whom we have harmed. And made of war yesterday’s morality tale, long transcended.

And while I do this, more young boots are being put on the ground every day as the latest round of rich men concoct their own martial conflicts (and far too many of the women help them do this), and so I dream of bacchanalias and praying for the young men even these old angry men once were, for I have no voice or power in the world otherwise.

http://youtu.be/Ft2WqkvIhXY (Reveille at West Point)

on tbt – winters past

Throwback Thursdays: reliving memories I’d otherwise forget whole cloth. I intend this year to be somewhat systematic about tbt. Might go back to forgetting next year, but for this one: I intend to remember on schedule.

x-c ski tetons

x-c ’80s skiing in one of my favorite winter places (second only to Yellowstone).

There’s nothing quite like a photographer to throw you off your nice, newly mastered glissading stride. If I remember correctly, I wound up having to skid to a stop completely and start all over again. With that Grand old Teton and her sisters staring implacably down on the debacle. All made much more doable, of course, because hot chocolate awaited any chilly soul that could make it back to our cozy Mission 66 house at Moose in one piece and capable of lifting a hot mug. Good times.

on beginnings and tricksters

Beginnings.

If eternity awaits us in all our hours, we get a boot up its snoot, it seems to me, every time we choose to start anew. There is something of the trickster in a new start, something likable but apt to be querulous, something tipsy but steady of gaze, something capable of swimming strong to shore but just as likely to maroon one for life in bad seas. Something infernally capricious, but dear. Something very us.

As the trickster deals the next unwavering hand, we guzzle hope by the tankards, sure enough of our footing if just a few cards land on the up. No matter yesterday’s games, no matter tomorrow’s ordeals: anytime we carve out a piece of now, call it the start of its own venture, and hie off into it sans promises, compass, or map? We have shaved off a smidgen of eternity and tucked it into a threadbare pocket, ready as ever to begin the world all over again. The soundtrack may be atonal as all get-out, but we hear four-part harmonies beginning to seep through the crannies of forever, and such spirits are known to call us by name if we can just be ready and willing this time.

Happy new year to you and yours, to all of us on this planet at this precise moment. I wish us a boatload of good cheer and steel backbones, for we have need of both now, it would seem. May our faith in this new start prove worthy fuel for whatever comes our way in the next 365 days.

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