Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's cold outside - our first freeze after temperatures close to 80 yesterday. Zachary carried out to the car in a blanket this morning wailed with great distress "Why is it freezing cold in my street?" He was not impressed. I wasn't really either at the bus stop with the wind chill in the teens. Next time I'll remember my hoodie and gloves. I was fine this evening walking home from the bus because the wind had died down. That walk felt pleasantly brisks but this morning I was plain freezing.

I love the way KK's school teaches many things - especially science this year. She gets to make models and machines out of simple household objects. Last night it was an insulator which could contain an ice cube. She got a little circular tupperware container and put it inside a knitted pouch, set it inside a larger tupperware, all space stuffed with hotpads from the kitchen. I hope Joanna can manage without her hot pads until the project comes home!

Its been a good work week - fast moving and connecting - feel like I'm helpful to people. My feet are cold at this moment, but I am happy.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The work week, and a whole normal cycle after a period of vacations, begins today and I feel ready, even eager. Its a relief that my normal feels good. I have to write quickly before my ride comes and want to scatter a few thoughts. I listened to President Carter on telivision last night talking about his newest book about Isreal's current practice of apartheid regarding the Palestinians. As a Jew I am embarrassed by how badly a Jewish state is behaving - always worse when your own screw up. I'm relieved Mr. Carter believes there is a solution if all parties cooperate. I also am thankful Mr. Carter took the paths he took after his presidency. He is making his life such a gift! And it is interesting how much like Joanna's long stated views and concerns about Isreal his are. I hope she can find a way and time in her life to use her great skill in understanding public affairs for the greater good. Also, I was shocked by an incident that occured at Bob's school a few weeks ago. He talked with some of the students about Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and they produced some interesting essays about their own hopes and dreams. But the shocking part was that Bob learned that one of the retired teachers who helps tutor math students, a woman Bob likes and respects, has deep distaste for Dr. King. She is from Alabama and said that like it was a reason to disapprove of a strong leader toward peace. She also told Bob the totally untrue snipet that Dr. King was coming out of his motel room with a white prostitute when he was shot. It freaks me out that someone who looks normal (no skinhead or Nazi tattoos - completely friendly and pleasant when we've spoken) can go around thinking such things. It makes me look at people differently in public - wondering who thinks and believes what dangerous thing. I admit I don't have empathy with this woman's position AT ALL. I'll have to think about whether this feels like a failure of empathy I should address or if I'm just right and so be it. Another shocking thing - the grand baby of an online friend was murdered (at three weeks old)- another instance that makes me rethink the way I see the world. I know I don't believe real safety is possible, but I don't expect babies to just get murdered out of the blue - and yet it clearly happened. Time to go to work. Maybe my work today can move someone half a heartbeat closer to living peacefully.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The second half of our holiday is home with family. Yesterday was a sweet and thankful Thanksgiving, traditional for us. Daughters both have adopted the custom of having lunch with their husband's families. All our crew (including James' mother and little sister) have late dinner here. That drill, as well as the traditional menu, has become familiar enough to feel comfortable. There are a few changes every year - James' favorite broccoli rice casserole a few years back and this year "yankee" - not cornbread - stuffing from Chris' traditions. I love the blending and the people - so much for which to be thankful I'm hearing more and more people, both private and public, comment on the inequities in the world in terms of all the people living on very little money ($500.00 a year being one recently quoted figure)and not having enough to eat. We are not doing enough to solve the problem and I don'tknow enough about how to solve it, but I do feel that more Americans are taking our ability to feast (annually and daily) less for granted.

After we'd gotten most of the dishes done and the children tucked in bed (hopefully with pie and stuffing dreams) Ruth and Chris shared one of their favorite movies with us on dvd. Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook is a beautiful love story spanning a life long marriage - from infatuation through trials and finally into a sweet and loyal abiding through the terrible loss of a love to dementia. I cried and was sorely aware that none of us knows what the future holds, except that it does hold loss on some terms. I watched Ruth and Chris cuddling on the couch, remembered James standing Joanna's chair at dinner, enfolding her in his arms. I looked at Bob relaxed in his chair savoring the story and remembered Kerry, living and loving and dying with me in this house. I felt the echo of the pain of losing a love and feared for all of us as to the future - how the losses will come. And then I remembered that you can't lose a great love unless you have a great love to lose - and that the couple in the film had a great and rich life together and so do all of us - that they transformed their ending the best they could - that we can to whatever terms life deals us. I still cried - and when Bob and I walked Lobo after the film we held hands with great tenderness which has lingered this morning. I want to hold onto that awareness of the beauty and importance, as well as fragility, of life.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bob and I continued our journey through the winter flocking behavior of snow geese and, especially sand hill cranes today. We woke before dawn in Roswell and made our way quickly to the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge where we hoped to see snow geese and sand hill cranes rise up of the lakes to meet the day. We were not disappointed. The deserted (by humans) refuge was swathed in mist and the temperature was 26 degrees when we arrived - the terrain pink and silver, sand coated in salt to the extent that we mistook it for frost or snow. Birds were as prolific as humans were absent - meadowlarks and hawks, ducks, pintail, mallard, widgeon, shoveler - and of course the centerpiece birds, the snow geese and sand hill cranes, who rose in clouds and glory from the misty lake - surrounding us in call and wing beat.

After the birds had taken to air, we went back to our room and slept deeply and sweetly - woke in time for checkout and a delicious Mexican lunch at a restaurant Bob found by asking the motel desk clerk where to get good Mexican food. At first questioning she sent us to a fancy looking place next door to the motel. When Bob asked her if she would send us to a really good restaurant if we were willing to drive further, she sent us down the highway to a family run place which was the real deal - owner's daughter waiting tables, owner's collection of models of vintage cars in a glass under the register, piles of spicy, nurturing food.

Bitter Creek refuge in the afternoon seemed to be on a different planet than it had at dawn. The cranes and geese were gone, and the temperature had gone up 30 degrees. Sun shown on a landscape dry and desert like. Hawks sat in trees and ducks continued to circle on the ponds.

We drove old roads, narrow and straight through dry land to the last location on our crane tour, Mule Shoe National Wildlife Refuge. It was here, at Paul's lake, that Bob first experienced masses of sand hill cranes before he knew me. He has told me so many times - at my request - the story of waiting by that little lake at dawn, only to discover that it was covered in sand hill cranes, more crane than water. He watched them take off in small groups for two hours. Tonight we watched them fly in - not out - as the sun set. The cranes called out in their melodic and graceful voices, the whole time we stood on the platform watching. They came in lines and vees from every direction as the sun sank and the lake took the sunset colors of rose and aqua. Some passed over our heads, crossed the lake, and found other lakes for their night's rest. Many though, drifted down through the air and settled at the far shore of Paul's lake, calling as night fell. We stayed until the velvet black of night had spiraled down, obliterating the last residue of pink light in the west. We stayed until the sky was silvered by diamond stars and we could reach up and touch the milky way. I felt four years old (the age I was when I learned the name of the milky way) and as old as the earth. This vacation has been truly magical.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Today started oddly at our motel with an uncomfortable incident. When we walked down to check out the driveway was blocked by two police cars. After the police left, a young man approached us in the lobby wanting a ride to the bus station or to Albuquerque - or somewhere. anywhere. We lied. We told him we didn't have room in the car. We could have made room. He scared me. I have a hunch he had just gotten out of prison , was angry, or a little crazy, was lying, desperate. And I keep thinking he was somebody's baby once, that he has suffered, is suffering now. I wonder where he is tonight now that it is cold again, if he is warm, if he has hurt anyone.

Bob and I shook off the strangeness around the young vagrant to track a shared dream around winding hairpin turns through the mule deers' mountain forest to the edge of the Gila wilderness. We climbed to the Gila cliff dwellings and were fascinated by our tour guide, a man about to turn sixty who has been working three years in the Gila and has a deep sense of spiritual connection with the place. We liked his approach - not just giving us facts but encouraging us to think about how the people actually lived in these dwellings. We felt he was a true keeper of this place and its stories - and one of the voices of the Gila. But the other voices of the Gila- those howling voices of the endangered and transported Mexican wolves - floated down the mountain and entered our hearts even more deeply. We heard these wolves - or some of their kin, before, at Wolf Haven in Washington state when they were being readied for reintroduction into the wild. We wish them well and thank them for their song.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Crane Festival at Bosque de Apache National Wildlife Refuge burst far past any expectation. WOW! We started our day before dawn, all wrapped up with the other participants in the limited walk in fly out program to watch ducks, snow geese and sand hill cranes lift off the lake. The moon rose, the smallest sliver of a crescent, then the ducks, the geese, the cranes. Honking geese and stately cranes crying musically rose in clouds from the lake and passed just feet over our head. They were simply beginning their day as they do every day, but we were in the middle of it - ordinary for them, astonishing for us.
I stood in awe as streams of white and silver birds traversed the brightening sky, honking, crying, glorious.

People can't equal nature's feats, but the bunch at this refuge gave it a good go. At the visitors' center we enjoyed a wildlife art show in which many media and takes on nature's images were, represented, and saw raptors, reptiles, and wolves brought as ambassador's by volunteers who care for them. We ate breakfast served by the Lion's club and hiked a canyon hike through beautifully quiet and austere Solitude Canyon. joined a bus tour of the far reaches of the refuge - saw acres of geese and cranes, a bald eagle, and a flock of at least fifty turkeys wandering through the woods. Accepting the volunteer tour guide - not letting her relative ignorance of birds (she wasn't even using binoculars) and something condescending in her tone - detract from the experience from me was a challenge and mostly a success.

But the peak birding came at the end of the day when Bob and I drove the tour road ourselves and saw corn field upon corn field of geese and cranes. The last field at which we stopped was so close we could see the faces of the geese (and practice recognizing the difference between Ross' and snow geese) and so crowded that new arrivals had trouble landing. The birds were loud, alive, present - lushly and abundantly right there. We were in their world and they seemed oblivious, sharing generously.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Today Bob and I started a runaway vacation to celebrate the beginning of Thanksgiving break. This is the last year the Corpus School district expects to close for a whole week at Thanksgiving, and we did not want to waste that opportunity. We followed our long term dream to visit wildlife refuges in New Mexico and west Texas to see the sand hill cranes and snow geese in mass. Bob has seen and heard this spectacle before and has described it to me. I have yearned to experience it. I've seen the plump, noisy heavy geese in their white and blue morphs in fields in Louisiana, but in hundreds, not the thousands present in November in New Mexico. And the tall, long legged, silver blue sand hill cranes, red crowned and stately, natural nobility, I have seen only in groups of eight to twenty. Even so I have loved watching them for long periods of time and have envied Bob his experiences of them in mass.

Its been a busy fall, a successful and happy fall fr both of us, but one in which our work lives have kept us moving on separate pathes. We were more than ready for time to enjoy ith each other and no expectations - away from home, work and kitchen - just us. It's been glorious from the beginning. We found a treasure near El Paso, Hueco Tanks Historic Area, an amazing oasis in the desert, three ponds unexpectedly present because of ancient volcanic activity, a magnet for birds, mammals, and rock climbers. A rock shelter is rich with evocative petroglyphs from ancient times. We must get back there, hopeful with grandchildren who would love to clamber on the rocks.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

KK is reading Harry Potter, a normal enough thing for a kid of her generation but really special for me. Partly I'm impressed and relieved that her reading level is at this place after her struggle with dyslexia or something that looked alot like it. She's absorbed in this complex magical story now, reading for herself, for the story, for joy, and she's understanding it. Yes it helps that she's seen the movie and the characters a nd plot are familiarbut she's READING it, two chapters in a row plumped up on pillows on my bead, and that thrills me. But there's another level of thrill. This is the first time KK and I are talking about a book the way I do with other readers, not me trying to help her enjoy a book, guiding her, trying to be subtle about making sure she gets it. We are just two readers together shifting ourselves into the Harry Potter world, imagining what we would turn a dresser, a pencil of Zachary into if we had a transfiguration spell. Its fun, and the beginning of being peers in the world.
I am way behind on this blog because I didn't have Internet access last week at our beach condo, so I think I will be lazy and just make one big entry all at once rather than trying to recapture bits from the different days. That way I will be more caught up and likely to keep posting.

It was wonderful last week having so much time and freedom at the beach condo with Bob. I've been going to the same Texas beaches several times a year since I was 19 and it seems like almost every time I spend any real time down there I see something new. This time it was unusually high tides, practically licking the dunes at sunset without storm conditions. The quickly shifting colors of the sunset illuminated the vast expanse of turbulent water - magnificent - one of those awe in nature interludes for me.

Birding was good too, not in a spectacular way, but just in the abundant presence of birds we know and often see. I only started learning anything about birds when I married Bob at forty, and I'm a slow study, so it is exciting for me to be able to quickly identify almost any bird correctly. I was able to write some last week too on an odd new novel idea with a touch of a mystery in it - not in any state to have people read yet, but fun to be working on. I had fun having time to cook good suppers for Bob and me, to have the treat of meeting him at the door after work days - just a great restful week.

Bob took election day off and we enjoyed birding and a beach walk at sunset while distracting ourselves from the pre-election tension. For once I felt more optimistic and excited while Bob just felt anxious. We were excited as the Democrats took the House and closed in on the Senate. I especially wondered what it felt like being Virginia voters when so much hung in the balance. Wednesday while Bob was at work and I watched CNN compulsively, calling back and forth with Ruth and Joanna as news broke, like the resignation of Rumsfield. I still don't know how hopeful to feel - maybe more fundamental changes are needed - but the optimist in me is relieved that there is change (and desire for change on the part of voters) in directions that I believe are for good.

Thursday the whole fourth grade went on a field trip to the Texas State Aquarium (first time for many of these kids from poor homes) They had a wonderful time, especially with a scavenger hunt Bob and another teacher designed. In every email I seem to need to write how delighted I am that he is so happy in his work right now. It just makes me grin.

We took the grandkids into the pine woods at Bastrop State Park yesterday, a real treat for all of us. The trail there is marked by aluminum plates on the trees and all three kids got a kick out of being able to find the plates and follow the trail. They also found the trees standing so tall beautiful and noticed details, like the way pine needles fall from tall trees and hang like decorations in the shorter deciduous trees. We felt the textures of moss and lichen, marveled at the changing light as dusk fell, and really enjoyed being outside together.

This will be an intense work week for me starting tomorrow since I am taking next week off (again, not great timing, but Bob has the whole Thanksgiving week off). We are running away together for the first half of the holiday week to go big time birding - hoping to catching the huge flocks of sand hill cranes at refuges in West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. We will venture into the Gila wilderness, where I have been wanting to hike for years now. We will be back on Wednesday next to celebrate Thanksgiving with kids and Grandkids here. I sure have plenty for which to be thankful.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I've taken the Halloween decorations down and am eager to fill baskets with gourds and Indian corn - my Thanksgiving totems. Tonight coming home on the bus I was one uncomfortable introvert caught between a young man and an older woman who were loudly and cheerfully debating the legalization of marijuana. He was for and she was against and they both had cogent and impassioned arguments.If the arguments had been written in an article, or intoned more quietly between acquaintances in a more private place - or if they had been part of a formalized debate I would have simply been mildly interested. But in the bus I felt accutely anxious. I am old fashioned I think, as well as introverted. Loud top of voice debate in a public place with a stranger feels wrong, off, vaguely dangerous - but both of the participants seemed to be enjoying the process, staying just a half step away from hostility. I was relieved when the bus got to my stop and I could escape into the cool quiet night.