Five Wonders at the End of June: Everyday Magic, Day 855

Mothra!
Mothra!

Little wonders abound, and in the last week, here are five I experienced:

1. Mothra! On Sunday we found this guy just off the side of our porch, a giant moth (over six inches across) who blended beautifully with the porch siding and ceiling. Sometimes the amazing is in plain sight, life camoflaged in life. Walk softly, and carry a measuring stick.

2. Flower Power: I caught sight of these gorgeous purple coneflowers aka echinacea right outside Plymouth Congregational Church

Purple Coneflowers
Purple Coneflowers

while strolling around Lawrence with Ken and our friend Stephen Locke. Mostly, we were pausing to listen to the nighthawks dive at dizzying speed while digesting superb Indian food and our lovely time presenting Chasing Weather at the arts center. The flowers grabbed my attention, and how could they not? They were bundling fountains of pink, happy as the day is long, and given that we were just past the summer solstice, the good day was long indeed.

Bathroom Notoriety
Bathroom Notoriety

3. My Name in Lights….in a Bathroom: Nothing like some recognition, but what a surprise to find this in the classy bathroom of the Kansas City Sporting (our local soccer team) fancy and friendly can you order cialis online conference center. I was there on Friday to give a writing workshop to about 45 advertising professionals taking part in “Gas Can,” the American Advertising Federation Kansas City chapter’s annual conference.

Sun set, moon rise
Sun set, moon  rise

4. A Merchant Ivory Moment: Hanging out with friends, especially handsome ones, and one in a particularly spiffy hat, is a little like being in one of those luscious Room with a View-like films, only with more chiggers. We paused at the end of the woods after trekking around part of the hill to watch the sky, the moon rising just a little to the south of Venus and Jupiter, so close together. Nothing like being outside with friends to talk poetry, the mysteries of life, and tyranny of ticks.

5. Dessert Nirvana: Sometimes when you order

An Astonishing Dessert
An Astonishing Dessert

something without understanding what it is, what you get is made of amazement. This dessert, at the end of our Oriental Bistro dinner and Power of Words conference committee meeting, was composed of 80% snowy ice and 20% ecstasy. My friends were as amazed as I was; in turn, I begged them to help me eat it, which

Celebrate This Kansas on Happy Kansas Day: Everyday Magic, Day 836

20110520_1115In honor of Kansas statement turning 154 years old, while Kansas land and sky is tens of thousands of years ago, I offer this poem, and one of Stephen Locke’s photos, also published in our collaboration, Chasing Weather: Tornadoes, Tempests, and Thunderous Skies in Word and Image.

Celebrate this sky, this land beyond measured

time that tilts the seasonal light. Dream the return

of the stars, the searing rise of summer or fast spread

of thunderheads, the secret-holding cedars and

witness rocks that migrate across the prairies.

We breathe the air of those who spoke languages

forgotten as the glaciers. We walk the fields

that once fed the fish of inland oceans.

We turn our heads away from where the raccoon

hid his family from the storm hundreds

of generations beforehand. This rain was once

a man’s last wish, this heat what warmed a weathered

rock enough for a woman to rest on with her baby,

these fossils, love songs of memory and longing

after the beloveds die. This horizon the homeland

of butterfly milkweed oranging in ancient sun.

This creek’s trail rerouted by deer and wild turkey.

This wooded curve the one favored by bluebirds

following last summer south. All we see,

the ghost and angel of billions of trails

through grasslands, the remnant of hard rains

where the grandmothers and grandfathers sang

of weather and loss, wars and births.

The bones of this land and the feathers of this sky

know us better than we know ourselves.

The Tender Side of Loss: Everyday Magic, Day 824

Ken in the deep woods
Ken in the deep woods

In the past two weeks, the Royals lost the World Series, my favored candidate for governor (when the stakes were outrageously high) lost the election, a dear friend lost her daughter and several other friends lost their lives or are reeling from the loss of their best beloveds in recent months. The tumble of leaves from trees don’t help, but this bright and abiding sun does, as does hugging each other, and leaning into the tender side of loss.

“I don’t know how I’m going to live through this,” my friend told me a few days after her beautiful 38-year-old daughter died. “Breath by breath,” I answered, easy for me to say because I’m not ripped apart by pain so deep that simply taking the next breath is hard, let alone getting out of bed. Yet this is what loss has continually shown me through my own experience and through what I witness of others surviving such agony.

IMG_1750There’s something about loss that’s utterly tender and bare. It brings us together to read the tiny nuances and big love in each other, to notice the flight of birds or sudden presence of moon and deer (as friends have generic cialis online paypal noted lately on facebook). In reading one another and the world from the vantage point of loss, we find something often out of reach or not of note when we’re fat and happy with ease and plentitude — moments of poetry when life is compressed into its essence. As Adrienne Rich writes at the end of her poem, “Dedications,”I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else left to read/ there where you have landed, stripped as you are.”

Some of these losses aren’t life-shakingly important (I mean, it was just a game, and the Royals may go all the way next year). Some change everything, a stone in the center of the pond that actually ripples out to change the shape and depth of the pond. Some make some of us want to run to a kinder land, but there’s no escaping where we’ve landed. All ferry us to the tender side of life where each moment is seeded with astonishing beauty, expansive depth, chevrons of geese calling us awake, and traveler moons charting us asleep. How we treat each other matters the most now (and always), witnessing one another’s impossible pain by letting our hearts and arms open.

Kansas, I Love You, But Your Broke My Heart Again: Everyday Magic, Day 823

Last night’s election sent me to bed with a tremor of despair and a dull ache in my head and heart. Once again, the people of my beloved state, my chosen home, voted against their own interests for reasons beyond my comprehension. My people have once again elected someone ruling by an ideology that excludes many if not most of us. Our governor, in his last term, slashed spending for public education, diminished teachers’ rights, destroyed the arts commission (shutting it down, essentially, in the middle of the night when it was still funded), cut funding severely to social services, and in every direction, dampened down public support for our most vulnerable populations.

I know and accept that Kansas has a long history as a Republican state, and I have many beloved friends and family members who identify as Republican, so I’m not, in any way, attacking the Republican party here or what I understand as some of the deeper values that might separate Republicans and Democrats. What hurts is how one Republican has pretty flagrantly disregarded due process, transparency, and democracy to put in place his goals. I share two such examples.

One of the governor’s first initiatives, when last elected, was to shut down the Kansas Neurological Institute, a state facility where people with severe disabilities live in family units, often with staff who have worked alongside them for dozens of years. Many of the people there are blind, deaf, on feeding tubes, in custom-made wheelchairs, and living with extensive developmental disabilities. In light of no comparable support in the community for many of the residents (and over the last decade, all who could be moved into community facilities were moved), the main option would be nursing homes, which aren’t (in most cases) set up to handle such care. Without such care, many residents wouldn’t survive.

Funding this institution is a drop in the ocean of the state budget, but the governor tried, without process, to close the doors in short term. Luckily, the families of the people living there, the legislature, and many citizens spoke up.

Another example is the now-defunct Kansas Arts Commission. Within a month of taking office in January, the governor issued an executive order to shut down KAC. Cooler heads in the legislature prevailed, and the legislature even went on to fund KAC for the upcoming fiscal year. All of KAC’s funding was matched 150% (from federal and regional arts funding), which, in turn, fueled tiny arts centers throughout Kansas, music and visual arts programs for teens and elders, community arts events in many towns, and small fellowships for artists. Within four months of taking office, the governor shut down KAC on a dime even though there was funding to keep the small staff going for several more months and more funding granted by the legislature beyond that. Then, to make sure KAC didn’t start again with the new fiscal year, on a Saturday morning after the legislature had finished its session, the governor vetoed the funding for the next fiscal year without time for the legislature to  re-assemble to consider overturning the veto.

Now, because of public support, we have a new arts commission, but in the meantime, we lost several years of federal, regional and state arts support, many smaller arts centers in rural areas closed, projects collapsed, programming diminished, and all for no good reason.

Multiply this examples across public schools, universities, social services, health care, environmental protection, renewal energy potential, and many other areas — all with case studies we could share of what’s gone wrong.

Meanwhile, there are thousands of good-to-the-core people in Kansas — people who would drop everything to help you fix your car, bake you a casserole in a flash, or reach out to you,  even if you’re a stranger, when you most need a human touch. Meanwhile, the sun shines with all its charm, the last yellowing leaves dance in the wind, the expansive blueness of the sky holds our view, and it’s a new day. A new day, but a hard day too in a place of such beauty and sweetness, such mystery and surprises, it will take your breath away.

Scaring Ourselves At High Altitudes: Everyday Magic, Day 708

DSCN1355A few years ago at a Chelsea diner in New York City, I overhead a famous actor on the phone in the booth behind me testing out some new jokes with his agent. “Get this one,” he said, “Why do we go on vacations? Because life has gotten too easy, so we say to ourselves, ‘I know how to survive here, so I’ll go someplace where it’s harder for me and see how I do there.'” It wasn’t the best joke, but it is kind of true.

DSC_5734I’ve just returned from some extreme vacationing, the kind of rejuvenating activities that make a person understand mortality rather explicitly. There’s no place better for such experiences than at high altitudes in Colorado where there are many ways to know, in unquestionable and visceral ways, how vulnerable humans are.

DSC_5724White-water rafting in Brown’s Canyon through Class III and IV rapids? It seemed like a good idea beforehand and a spectacular one afterwards, but during the actual roaring drops and spins between big rocks, I was wide awake in both terror and joy. So was everyone in our raft, including our expert guide, a wonderful young woman who assured us dozens of times that “we were crushing it” every time we hit another rapid, some with descriptive names like “Widow-maker.”

The other rafts twice the number of people on them as ours with only Ken, Forest, our nephew Andrew, me and our guide. “Will that make it easier?” I asked her, wondering also if the water being so high would help us avoid big rocks. Actually, a light boat and high water equal speed on steroids, and it wasn’t until after the trip that she confided to us, “I didn’t want to scare you guys, but I’ve never seen the Arkansas [river] higher cialis generic cost than today.” She didn’t need to scare us, especially when I flew out of the boat only to land back in, paddling like a DSCN1421demon the whole time.

I also faced vivid images of another kind of danger when horseback riding through three climates: high desert, aspen forest, and alpine-ish field. Three different habitats means big changes in altitude, which means leaning forward while going up a steep path through the trees, praying my lovely horse, Wonder Pony, didn’t slip. Even more heart-race-inducing was going down what felt like a vertical path. “Do the horses ever lose their footing and slide down the mountain?” I asked my guide. No, she told me, unless there’s a lot of mud. I looked down at the wet dirt, leaned way back and pressed my knees in as hard as I could (just as my guide told me to do) and prayed. By the time I got off the horse I could hardly stand up and could only walk cow-girl-bow-legged. But none of that mattered because I was ecstatic. Survival can do that to a person.

DSCN1410There were also the big drops to look down, especially at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a national park in southwest Colorado where the canyon is both narrower and deeper than the Grand Canyon. Sitting on the edge and looking to the ant-sized river below made my heart beat hummingbird-fast, as if willing me toward hovering position. Walking the two-mile loop down and back up simply made me grab hold of trees and pant hard, determined to keep going.

Now that I’m back in Kansas, I face our local dangers: chiggers, ticks, hail, humidity and state politics, as daunting as white-water and high altitudes but not quite as enticing, but that’s what vacations are for.