Month: November 2011

whitefeather

photo credit B Witt

My mirror has often lied to me through the years before all the family stories sifted into my head. My fake gold blonde wispy hair and sun burnt fair skin, German, Irish, English, all safe races to be. Often, though, strangers’ voices echoed , “You have such interesting classic features and bone structure.” Often repeated. Then there is my obsession with genuine Southwestern pottery and artifacts lining my China cabinet.
When I lived in Hawaii, I learned all about prejudice as water balloons were pelted down on me from dark haired occupants of school balconies. Now in a world of rapid immigration to the United States it has been easy to disregard the faces in my family photo albums as Really Tanned People.
The messages filtered in slowly, as very elderly grandparents began to relate real history and native tongues.
It could have been clear as we gazed at Grandpa and Grandma White’s 50th Wedding Anniversary photos. Grandma fair and skin as pure as a child’s. Grandpa, her antithesis, rounded features, dark skin, decades after giving up his cattle brand Inspector days, his eyes piercing and black singing in his silence. Slowly a tiny vortex assembles itself as decades of denial find their way into a common ground.
Grandpa rarely spoke, when he did, the words were soft, barely comprehensible. He said nothing when our family ponies, ill tempered, ill mannered and lazy refused to be saddled, bucked us off, bit us, and crushed us into trees and fences. He never spoke of his heritage, already full of recriminations from Grandma’s British family.
Finally in the years called the Roaring zeros, we come clean. Cecil’s Grandaughters stored the family legends until a time when Native American Heritage is honored and is safe.
They remember his stories of an Indian Father, wearing his hair in braids, raising great grandfather Louis White in Kansas speaking to them in his native tsa la gi, Cherokee language. Only in his later years would he tell the unusual circumstances of his mother, Katherine White herding horses in Oklahoma as a young girl. In that time, to marry an Indian in Kansas was considered a criminal offense. Perhaps the very reason Louis and Katherine settled in remote southern Colorado. Great Grandpa Louis who could not read or write used his lasso as a tool to record the number of cattle.

We all return from whence we came so all the finer Believers feel. So we have.
Aunt Faye strolled the North Park Hills and Valleys, discerning arrowheads from scrabble and the calls of eagles from hawks. I tremble in terror in my pickup at 70 miles per hour as I missile toward the Mountains of concrete in Denver, constantly wishing I was outside walking along the river bottom with my dog. Ginny studying Spanish on crowded city buses while she dreams of upcoming vacations to Mexico. Andrea and Ben rafting down Central American white water rivers in tiny canoes, sleeping on pristine beaches, eating seeds and nuts. Elizabeth gently lying bareback across her new Pinto Pony. Greg, secluded high in the mountains, protecting the waters that travel from the mountains. The red hills near Grand Junction call sweetly to Rob the Bicycle Bandito. Each of us packing just what we can carry in our gypsy wagons to unknowingly follow the trails of our ancestors.
All of us, folding a few feathers, dark and white, into our pockets, freeing them into the freezing Colorado runoff in honor of The Ancients. While the wild geese nesting on the sandbars and the white hawk in flight give their silent nod. They have seen it all before.

stumped




Split or joined?
only at a distance standing straight
could one see
a summit of spiraling and sparring
of blistered phantoms.

Is it anguish, ache, or agony?
I erred where I should have anticipated.
twirling turrets as mottled mirrors.
snaked tightly round and round .
woven bright with blighted scars.
a constant blistered shadow.
twisted where I should have angled.
cankers along forked spines.
strangled apparitions tangled.
limbs linked.

Is it safety, shelter, or sanctuary?
Sun blockade?
Coiled where I curved.
staunch companion?
Backbone in tempests?

we meander, hedging and hindering.
separating and entwining.
these contorted selves .
Doppleganger squeezing the very air.
pinnacles of barrier and consequence.
Neither with legroom to let fly these kiteleaves
Reaching for a sky already owned.
Two where one should be?
One where two must be.

11 11



It’s a small world
This place where I try to live
Where wind speed and temperature often match.
winter lays me down
Sky bright blue, sun clear,
snowless tundra
With a wind so sharp it flattens
The plume of steam from the
Sugar factory into a long grey line.
The long field grasses, too
Bow to the 50 mile per hour gusts.
Layers of coats and hoods
only briefly
Defy the knife.
my right ski glove skewered
into an unknown gulf stream
When I foolishly remove it to adjust the wool scarf
Across my face to warm my air.

Charlie never minds much
He loves the scents of the dusty, dusky meadow
Where we walk together each day.
I am mystified that it all seems new to him
Every day and every season.
A gift I cannot share with him.

We slide together down dark reeds
Into the deep Tri State Irrigation Canal
A strange, silty parting of seas
Of corn and alfalfa
In winter, dry, and a moment’s respite
From the haunting prairie
howling through the junipers

Frees me
for that moment from the feel
Of a Grapes of Wrath scene.

Ever alert, Charlie somehow realizes
It is time to turn south and stumble
Along wheat stubble and home.
He is tiring too
Scarred and bleeding
his paws suffer
From the other evils,
sand burrs and puncture vines
He shows me his painful feet
and I rub the hurts.

In this inhospitable land
He knows when to stop
chasing prairie dogs
And become my seeing eye dog.
My glasses are fogged in the growing chill
My eyes glazed with soot and grime
I stagger more
He steadies more.
Over the wind, I think I can hear
The kitchen tea kettle.

It’s a ritual he loves
The same sidewalk
Same lonely lea
Where few others trod
I plod.
To him it’s a thrill
Rabbits and Rattlers
To me
it all seems a bit
Fiddler on the Roof.
I dream of a place where I hear
ocean over wind
And seas part for skiffs and scows.
Perhaps those worlds, too, become small
But I fancy it is not so
Over my Red African Roombi Tea.

shepherd



He was used to reading the natures and movements of spirited, wounded, violent animals. He had seen them all in the open Colorado prairie before cities came. Horses, cattle, quail, rabbits, mountain lions, antelope, snakes, vermin. He would watch their eyes, never turning away for even a single breath.

He knew about predators. He could predict and interpret the likely behavior of a coyote or a rat. In the olden days of cattle herds, he was an inspector of cattle brands with an eye for detail. He had, no doubt, confronted hundreds of ruthless scoundrels in his time. Nose to nose.

Gunless. Fearless. He could kill a rattler with his whip without leaving the saddle. Escape raging flash floods with lightning as illumination.
He believed in a sacred Creation and the sanctity of Mother Nature. And he studied the wild eyes of creatures like we read books. He spoke so little, I can scarcely remember his voice, but his enigmatic, stoic nature hid a man torn by powerful emotions. A quiet man persecuted for his Native American ethnicity who knew about bulls and bullying.
He held his ground. He knew how to fight raging, wind-blown prairie fires and how to survive 1930s Colorado winters in a canvas tent.

Only the slightest glimpse did I see of this protector in his older years, guarding his remaining keep: grandma’s brilliant colored cosmos.

He patrolled his yard like a cowboy on evening watch. If a cat violated the revered garden, he was already armed with a fistful of angry stones, firing buckshot at the hapless beast as it sped through the garden and over a wooden fence. Every stone bullet made its mark.
In a voice like a cowboy soothing midnight doggies to rest, mumbled low, “and that is how I take care of Grandma’s garden pests.”

He slipped back into his own silences, his private language, memories of a hundred cattle drives and mustangs broken by a cowboy’s bitter quirt.
Remembering their wild, wide, White eyes.

Luna

Even with double layered curtains draped.
No sleep comes in the nights
of full harvest moon
Light years, tides, cratered eons
Whisper to my vampirish heart
And I can’t resist howling within.
Dreaming without dreaming.
A primal dance.

restraints of all types
in place
i am
ipod to ears
ipad to eyes

Technology can’t block Her call
To the lunacy in me.
I answer dreamless
Restless.
Heart calm
mind.
loco.

no 2

Already I feel the madness

In this two, too place I live.

Two seasons in one day.

Two temperatures in one day.

80 degrees and 20 degrees.

Too little time betwixt.

Two blizzards.

Two walks along snow caked fields

Where I wear everything already in twos

Two  too itchy wool hats, two scarves

Two pairs wool socks and alpaca pants

From the too willing farm and ranch store

Two shirts, vests, coats, gloves

Already useless in the multi- directional

Ever changing sharp and penetrating winds

 

Charlie, too, shivering despite his two

Snow n ice covered coats

One tan.

One blue with a less than amusing

Bright red fire hydrant stencil on his icy back

So I can spot him in the blinding sleet

 

Two trees dead in my backyard

Killed because global warming

Warned them too late to drop their leaves

 

Already the madness is slipping in

The date, too soon,

Nov 2.

Winter two months away.

In this too, too confusing land

Where I live.

Just me.

The one.

There’s no bad weather

I grew up devouring the stories of the Little House on the Prairie, Daniel Boone, and The Call of The Wild. I knew about the fickle nature of Colorado weather, “Give it a minute and it will change.” I thrilled to stories of mountain men and the Old West dangers of weather and snow. We skied, tobogganed, rode horses, made snow forts. We knew about wool coats, big boots, and really ugly hats.
But our tiny acreage was nibbled away by the Big City and the safety of modern cars took away some of our fears. Our schools made foolish choices for us and overrode our common sense.
My younger sister, Kay, seems to have borne the brunt of winter’s collision with technology and she mentions it today when the Colorado wind chill is -35 and her daily commute is two hours.
Our memories differ, but the story is the same. Our high school, an hour’s drive on Federal Boulevard, insisted on the wearing of formal dress. For guys this meant a suit and tie, for girls it meant skirts and dress shoes.
Colorado weather is an oddball. A balmy fall day with sky as blue as the ocean can turn into a blizzard within the hour. So happened twice with Kay and Sarah rumbling along Federal Boulevard once in an poorly heated car pool van, again in a well used 1970 Rambler. A fender bender resulted in a long cold wait as the police wandered between county jurisdictions, and the snow began to pile up. Kay in her open toed sandals, a frightened, confused teen waited in the snow and ice for the mishaps to be cleared.
Cell phones were 20 years into the future, so they proceeded on to school. It wasn’t until late in the evening when Kay and Sarah examined their sore, red, swollen feet. Who would think at a downtown intersection of Interstate 70 one could get frostbite?
Years later, Kay had a car breakdown on the Valley Highway,far from her home. Once again in office dress, she waited for rescue. She on the east side of the traffic crawling along the ice, Dad on the west side. Unable to find each other in the mass of technology halted by nature’s choice.
Dad thought her location was on the west side of the Platte River where he searched for hours before he tried the east side of the river. During that time, Kay stood outside and her feet were frost bitten again!
They tried to jump start her truck until the van battery was depleted, Dad kept his van engine running to recharge the battery.
She suffers from nature’s weather choices, still, but she’s the wiser now as she emails me. A choice that would have been handy those 15 or 20 years ago. She clearly vows, “When it’s below, I don’t go.”
That and an old Swedish adage, “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.” Now no matter the Colorado forecast, wool socks, mittens, and hats are tucked into an old pair of boots in the backs of our cars next to old quilts.
That’s what Grandpa Cecil White often recommended, and a look upon a photograph of his dark, weathered face, that wisdom was better than an adage or two.