Wednesday, November 1, 2017
“I only miss you every now and then, like a soft breeze blowin’ up from the Carribean. Most Novembers I break down and cry, but I can’t remember if we said goodbye.”
Heard these lines from Steve Earle’s song Goodbye today. November is a month that swings back and forth for me. It’s the month 3 years ago that we began life without Rickie. It was always our favorite time of year. The hot summer heat finally broke for a while, it was hunting season and all the excitement associated with that, and the holidays were coming up with family gatherings and visits. We had some time off from work and from school for the kids, and we spent more time at the ranch than any other time of year. Orion was back in the night sky, the Milky Way was clear and bright, and it was time to put a pot of chili on the stove.
Whenever that first front flows down bringing the north wind, I’m overwhelmed with memories. It feels like a punch in the gut and I try not to double over when it hits. Rickie’s favorite day of the year was the day the first norther blew in. He was very in tune with the natural world and living with him taught me to notice those changes, both big and small.
We had our first snowfall here in Pagosa yesterday. It was snowing when I got up and a few hours later it was gone. But it stayed cloudy and cold all day. I got a fire going in the fireplace and read all day. I’m reading Where They Bury You by Steven Kohlhagen. His wife, an author in her own right, is in the dog walkers group that I’ve been welcomed into here. We walk dogs each week at the animal shelter then we go to lunch. The book is set in the New Mexico and Arizona territories during the Civil War days. It’s interesting and I’m learning some history of my new part of the country.
The last two weeks I’ve been trying to get some things done before the real winter weather settles in. I hired a fella to come haul some old wood and junk off and to take down an old greenhouse frame. He never showed up and the other bid I got to do it from someone else was more than I was comfortable spending. So I cleaned the junk area up and then took the geeenhouse down myself.
One day I went up to the tree line and did some trimming. I found a little 2’ tall Douglas fir there. This was Grandma Hattie’s favorite kind of Christmas tree; in fact the only kind she would have. I can remember taking her to the store to pick one out. I hope I can dig it up and transplant it in the yard for Bixby. We like to have trees for people in our family. Then he can decorate it every year for Christmas.
I found a deer trail leading up into the woods. Once the bears go to sleep I’ll explore it. I haven’t been back there yet. Rickie would have already been up there and mapped it out! I’m feeling a little bad I’ve let it go so long.
A longtime friend of mine from Houston was out a couple of weeks ago. We rode the train from Durango to Silverton one day and went horsebacking riding another day. The weather was beautiful, the leaves had changed, and it was good to have adventures with an old friend. They are few these days, old friends, and to be treasured.
I made a trip to Houston the end of September for my granddaughter’s wedding. It’s a priceless gift in life, this starting off on a new adventure together. That feeling of everything being new. I wish Rickie could have been there, and maybe he was. Because we were there, those of us who love Natalie and Austin. And we carry him with us. Maybe that’s why I never said goodbye.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
For almost three years my friend Deb and I have been talking on the phone once or twice a week. It's always as the day winds down. One of the times I think we miss our husbands the most, when we'd be talking over the day with them. Deb lives across the country from me and her husband passed away about 6 months before Rickie did. Suddenly, as he did. One minute they weren't feeling well and the next they were lying on the porch lifeless.
Our lives have run parallel in other ways. Both single moms with two young boys when we met the men that would become our second husbands. The men with whom we would find the happiness we hadn't found before, our soulmates, to use a word I'm not crazy about, our best friends. They would help raise our kids as their own, learning how to be a parent, not by easing into it, but by jumping right into a ready made family. We each then had a daughter. All of our kids were grown, married, and with children of their own. Our youngest grandchildren, the children of our daughters, were toddlers when our husbands died.
And we were left to pick up the pieces of dreams ended and families stricken.
I haven't always known Deb. Back when the ranch cabin was first seen on tiny house blogs I received some Facebook friend requests from people I didn't know. Normally I don't friend people I don't know. I can be annoying to some people with my outspoken comments, and vice versa - ha! - and it's also a safety issue. But the times are changing and people meet in different ways. So I accepted friend requests from a few women I didn't know and I have come to count them all as real friends and some of the people I enjoy most keeping up with. I'd welcome any of them into my home.
Deb reached out to me after Rickie died and, while I'm not normally a phone person, I've come to look forward to our conversations. Living alone like we each do, it's a way to talk over things on our mind, share what we've been up to, and have some human contact. The thing I miss the most with Rickie gone is just the day to day conversations. One of the hardest things was not having anyone to call when I was traveling and let them know I made it home safely. There was no one who was waiting to hear that. Everyone has their own lives going on, as they should, and the person that cared the most whether we were ok was gone. It's not the big things you miss the most; it's the little things.
And so began our friendship, first as a way for us each to cope by knowing there was someone else in the same boat as we were. As time went by and we became real friends, we included things like asking after each other's families and asking each other's advice. We cried together and still do sometimes, though not as much as at first, and we laugh together. And talk about things only we and other widows and widowers understand.
This week Deb told me about a speaker she had heard Sunday. The woman had been a widow for 12 years. Something she said stuck with Deb and she shared it with me. It was that we can't live the life we had before. That's gone. We have to make a new life for ourself. The two years I stayed at the ranch I was trying to keep life as it was. Everything was the same except Rickie wasn't home. I think that's normal but there comes a realization that you can't keep that kind of life up. It comes slowly and I don't know that I even consciously thought of it as that way. I just instinctively knew I couldn't stay and survive.
Deb and I talked about how we have to actually do the making of a new life. While we've had support and love from family and friends without which we would not have survived, no one has taken us by the hand and said, here, this is what you'll do. We've had to figure it out ourselves. Taking welcome advice and help in some matters from loved ones, but ultimately, at the end of the day, we are alone, and alone we have to find our place in the world we find ourselves in. We've each tried to do that in our own way.
So, this post is for you, Deb. Thank you for being my friend. And for making those end of the day calls where we talk over the little things in our lives and sometimes the big things. If there's one thing I've learned these last three years, it's don't wait until people are gone and wish you'd told them how much you value them.
Saturday, September 9, 2017
"The home I redeem from the savage and wild
The home I have loved as a father, his child
The wife of my bosom, farewell to ye all
In the land of the stranger, I rise or I fall"
I heard Fess Parker sing this on the old Davy Crockett at the Alamo movie a couple of weeks ago. The real Davy Crockett wrote this part of the song, called Farewell, as a poem. It touched me, both the leaving a place you created from nothing and loved part, and the last line. Davy and I are kindred spirits in this, as I'm sure we are in other things.
I found an extended version of Riders in the Sky singing the song and downloaded it. There's a video clip of Fess Parker singing the abbreviated version with the real Davy's words from the movie. Naturally, it will break your heart because not only did Davy die but we know the adorable Fess Parker as Davy is going to die before the movie is over.
I drove back from Denver today where I spent the week with the kids, enjoying their company, learning about Bixby's school days, and doing some shopping. There's a bit of Fall in the air, especially in the mornings, and the aspens in the high places are just beginning to turn. Farmers on the plains of Colorado have bales of hay piled high and irrigation going on a few fields to cut again later. Gus and Woodrow wouldn't believe all the alfalfa in that part of the state! I feel like Fall will be here and gone before I know it and I want to savor every bit of it.
I've come a year's full circle from the beginning of my journey to leave the ranch and move to Colorado. It was the first of October last year when Sarah and I came to Durango to meet with a realtor, a decision that was made in September. The year has gone by quickly. From those first very hard weeks to now, it's been a journey of discovering whether I will rise or fall.
My adopted state has been good to me, both in the people I've met and the land I've found. I feel my roots sinking like those of the trees I've planted this year. I didn't create this home from the ground up like we did the ranch but I'm putting my mark on it and the family is too. To the framed photos that Rickie took of the ranch I've added ones of the family and me and the adventures we've had here. Our story is expanding and our circle of experiences grows.
Sometimes we just have to trust that the decisions we make will lead us to a better place. Not necessarily a better physical place but a better place in our mind. Life is a journey and we're not meant to be stranded in the past, adrift without a sail. That's my belief anyway. We're meant to rise up from whatever befalls us, or to try to anyway.
Davy did, and that's why we're still singing his song almost 200 years later.
Fess Parker Farewell
Sunday, September 3, 2017
The earliest memory of anything I can recall was my dad, wearing his duck hunting waders, carrying me through thigh deep water to take me inside my grandparents' apartment above a garage somewhere in northeast Louisiana. I must have been about 4 years old. I can see Grandma Hattie clear as a picture in my mind leaning over the stair railing, watching him bring me up. He takes me up and goes back to the car for my brother David.
For over 40 years I had a recurring dream of our family driving along a narrow gravel road with swamp water on each side coming all the way up to the edge of the road. It was a horrifying dream for me. I had it until after I had been married to Rickie for many years. I think it signified fear and insecurity to me. I had it once after Rickie died, the first time in maybe 15 years.
I've always hated muddy swampy water and the things that lived in it. As a young child, 8 or 9 years old, I begged my dad to let us leave Louisiana and go to Texas where I could be a cowboy and have a ranch. In my mind I pictured the dry hills of California as seen on the Saturday morning cowboy shows of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. The rolling hills and dusty roads, far from swamp water that had encroached the road of my nightmares.
We did eventually move to Texas when I was 14, searching for a better living. But it was nothing like the Texas I envisioned, the one in my mind that had hills and dusty roads and ranches. Still, our family, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins all settled in there. We grew up and grew old and our parents and grandparents all passed away. Our kids married and had kids of their own who had kids of their own. Houston gave us a living and I call it my hometown rather than the north Louisiana town I was born in.
Eventually I got my ranch and hills and dusty roads. Rickie got them for me, and they were just as I had imagined them to be. When life changed for me and I moved to Colorado my hills were replaced with mountains and I found my share of dusty roads still. Cattle graze in the green high elevation pastures, surrounded by forests of fir, spruce, and pine. My cabin is half way up a steep hill and I feel comfortable I won't be covered by a swamp. I may fall off a mountain one day or be driven from my home by a wildfire but that's preferable to me.
This week in Houston has been the stuff of my nightmares but it's been living nightmares for so many. Two of my nephews and their families were flooded and are trying to salvage clothes and memories as I write this. They had no flood insurance and from what I hear even for those who did, funds will be a long time in coming. One nephew and his family had to be rescued in the night and were lucky to escape with their lives. The stories and suffering are never ending.
And I sit halfway up my steep hill surrounded by mountains. The skies are a clear blue and the air has a promise of Fall. The aspen leaves are thinking about turning a brilliant yellow soon. I saw my first mule deer fawns last evening, a set of twins, eating on the hill behind the house along with their mother. I've been working on an outside project for a couple of days and every time I stop and look around me I feel grateful for the life I've had. And grateful to be where I am. And somewhat guilty to be living this life when my Houston family is suffering so. My hope for them is to one day feel safe and not afraid as they put their children to bed at night.
Below are links to help my nephews and their families. Please read their stories if you have time. Keep them in your thoughts and hearts and send them your strength as you all sent me yours when I lost Rickie. Thank you and I hope if any of y'all were affected by Harvey you made it through safely.
Esther and Paul. https://www.gofundme.com/please-help-rebuild-flooded-house
Brandy and David https://www.gofundme.com/n5j64d-a-family-in-need
Sunday, August 20, 2017
After I wrote the last post earlier this week, I took the time to edit some of the photos I have on the blog. They've remained the same since I moved. There's a list where the photos are on the side of the blog that shows the most popular posts. As I scrolled down it one caught my eye.
It was A Leap of Faith. It was written almost a year ago, in September of last year. I opened it and reread it. It described how I felt when I first decided to sell the ranch and move to Colorado. It brought back the feelings just as if it was happening to me again. How I felt being there without the life I once had when Rickie was alive. It was a feeling of drowning, where you can't catch your breath. You want to just double over and scream, and sometimes you do, but you know that won't save you. There's no hand to reach out and pull you to safety.
And it made me realize how much better I am now after the move. Time passing has helped also. But I feel like if I was still there the time wouldn't have made much difference. I would still be drowning with no hope of being saved.
It's not that I'm forgetting or letting go of the loss and the sadness. I carry that with me inside, and sometimes outside, and always will. It's that the day to day living in a new place, a peaceful and beautiful place, has helped me to heal. It's removed some of the despair and replaced it with hope. Hope that I can and have found some moments of joy. Some on the days my loved ones have been here. And some on the days I'm alone, maybe hiking along the river or driving the roads surrounded by the majesty of the mountains.
I've made some friends that have been kind to me and I'm feeling less like an outsider when I'm with them. Shortly after I moved my new friend Angie, who is my sons' age, invited me to go hear live music every week at one of the places in town. She knows everyone and has a group she is close to that meets up. I don't always go but I've tried to be consistent and go enough that they don't forget me. It's not easy. It often makes the fact that I'm alone more obvious. But I go anyway because I know it's good to go out among people. And I know it takes time to feel at home with new friends. Except for Angie who makes everyone feel at home the minute you meet her.
This past week when I left, Angie's boyfriend, a kind young man, took my hand to say goodbye and tell me he loved me, as a dear friend or one of my kids would do. Our friend Beth stopped me as I was leaving to hug me and tell me she likes it when I come join them. The older gentleman that is also a client of Angie's came with another caregiver. Though he can barely walk, he always asks me to dance and insists on walking me back to my seat. I'm beginning to feel like I fit in a bit more.
I have a rule in these gatherings that makes it easier for me to go. My drink rule is "one and done" and I only stay about an hour. So if I'm feeling out of place, I know it won't last for long.
I've still not found that friend yet that I can call up and say hey, I'm going hiking, want to come. But I'm feeling less like a visitor and more like a resident. And I still like to be alone a lot. I've always been that way, which has come in handy since I am alone a lot.
After reading the post about my decision to sell, I also reread the one when I balked at going and couldn't sign the papers to list the ranch, and then the later one when I got past that and did list and started to look forward.
Looking forward, I guess, is the thing that made the move right for me. While we can't or shouldn't ever forget the past, especially when it was the best part of our life, we can't live there. Life is constantly changing and we have to adapt to that. Things will never get better on their own. We have to try and make them better. Even when the trying is painful also.
I'm glad I've written down my feelings over the years. It helps to go back and look at it and see how far I've come. It makes me appreciate what I have and shows me that I am getting better. With a little help from my friends.
And with thanks to my family, who not knowing if it was the right decision or the worse one ever, fought down whatever feelings of loss they had, and said what the hell, let's do it.
Thursday, August 17, 2017
Yesterday morning it was 44 degrees when I woke up. For the last few days, just before daybreak, I'd been pulling up the Pendleton wool blanket I keep at the foot of the bed. It was a splurge, a gift to myself when I first moved here. Rickie and I had long been in love with these blankets but couldn't justify the cost when we were often still in the 100s as Autumn rolled around, and running the AC for Christmas gatherings.
So once I had the bedroom painted white and my white linens on the bed, I ordered one in turquoise, my favorite color. It has a little orange in it, also my favorite color! I've left it on the bed throughout the Summer because I like to see it every day.
A couple of weeks ago coming back from Denver I went further South than normal, trying to scout out a road to use in Winter that doesn't involve going over Wolf Creek Pass. With my closest kids now in Denver I need to know all the ways to get there. Driving along the valley between the mountains I thought I'd found a good route. As the road began to rise, I started worrying. When I saw the signs to chain up I knew this wasn't going to be the route I was looking for! It was actually more worrisome than going over Wolf Creek Pass as that road is wide and well traveled.
But I did come upon the most beautiful view of Conejo Canyon where the Conejo River runs. The road had been running alongside the river for a while and there were occasional fishing camps with small cabins for rent. Signs at the pullover for the view said the last known grizzly bear in Colorado had been killed back in the area. There were millions of aspens and I could only imagine what it must look like when they turn yellow. I intend to return and find out!
The train that runs from Chama, which was my route destination, runs up into the area, though I don't believe it goes up to the canyon. I've added it to my Fall wish list of things to do. The train ride includes lunch according to the ladies in the dog walking group I've been having lunch with. We walk dogs at the animal shelter on Wednesday and then have lunch together. These ladies are awesome and have been doing this for years. I'm only just getting started.
Next trip to Denver I'm trying a different route that takes me over the mountains further South on the road that runs from Tierra Amarillo to Taos. Rickie and I went over this road back in 2013. I don't recall any hair raising passes, but I need to be sure. We did meet up with a cowboy on horseback and his dog moving cattle down the road. A lot of this area, including the area I had tried this last trip, is open range. Cattle are all along the road and sometimes in the road. That's life in the Wild West!
With Summer winding down I've now experienced Colorado in all its seasons. Rickie and I always came here in the Fall and that was the only season I knew until I decided to move here. With the end of August, I've seen every month and what Colorado has to offer in each. None of them has disappointed me, though the mud in Spring is probably my least favorite. Mud is my least favorite form of dirt! But even then the greening of the land and the promise of wildflowers to come offsets the mud.
I met a lady in the dog walkers group that has lived here for over 20 years. Her husband of 53 years was in the Air Force and they lived all over, originally from Syracuse, New York. They had no children. He passed away two years ago. She said there's no place on earth she'd rather be than Pagosa Springs. She told us stories of the hunters that came for many years and stayed with them. She would cook their meals and from the description of her meals, they were lucky hunters! I felt a connection to someone who's life included some of the same things mine had.
I'm slowly weaving myself into the tapestry of life here in Colorado, making a life for myself. The beauty of the landscape, the stories of the people I meet, the history I'm learning, it all winds itself into my own story. There are times I miss the ranch more than others. But it's not the actual ranch I miss, it's the life I had there with Rickie. I packed that up when I packed up the things I brought with me. It influences what I do here and it influenced where I came when I decided to move.
I'm grateful each and every day that I'm able to live this life and share it with family and friends. While I was in Denver a long time friend of my son's and his girlfriend came to spend a few days at the cabin. He left me a beautiful drawing of the cabin, which is at the framing shop right now. Everyone that comes blesses and honors this home by their company.
And Colorado blesses me. The mule deer that come out on the hill each evening and pass by going to the creek, the black bear that visits my neighbor and I have yet to see, the beautiful conifers up the hill looking like an army of Christmas trees, the first horned toad I've seen in 20 years, the stories of grizzly bears and of hunters; it's all becoming part of my story now.
And I wonder what each upcoming chapter will bring.
Friday, July 28, 2017
A lot has been going on since I last posted! Sarah, Justin, and Bixby made a huge change in their lives - lately it's been go big, or go home with us all! They stayed with me a couple of weeks while in the process of moving to Colorado from Austin. We all hated to let go of the Kanga tiny house; that was my backup plan if I was ever unable to stay alone in the country. But they found a house with a finished basement, so I still have a safe house! They decided they wanted a new adventure too so they left the house they loved and the city they'd called home for many years and off they went! They are a few hours from me but that's so much better than being two days away!
After they left here I made the hike to Treasure Falls one morning. I'd been wanting to and it didn't disappoint. I went early in the morning and there were only a handful of people there then. I had time at the top of the trail alone, just me and the waterfall! Recently I made another hike on the Piedra River Trail with a group led by an herbal shop owner in town. We learned about the medicinal plants found in this area.
I continue to try and make connections, friends here. I don't go every week but when I can I am meeting some friends at one of the breweries for live country music and drinks. I'm not yet at ease there. There are a lot of couples and I feel the loss of Rickie deeply then. But it's getting a bit easier. I keep going, not wanting to lose the new friendships I'm trying to make, to hold onto the fragile new beginnings of a life on my own.
Last week I started volunteering as a dog walker at the local animal shelter. My neighbor asked me to come with her. There's a large group of folks that go one day a week. The shelter is in a valley surrounded by the mountains and there is a two mile loop for walking. So both the dogs and I get a nice walk in. Afterwards most of the walkers go to lunch together. Slowly, in tiny bits and pieces, I'm trying to fill the empty spaces my life now has.
This week has been non-stop activity and it's all been fun! My sister Kathy, niece Alison, and grandnephews plus one of their friends, have all come to visit. We made sure to do everything we could in the three days they were here!
We started off with a hike along the Piedra River Trail. It was soon apparent that these young men were made for Colorado! Sometimes you worry that nature won't impress a generation that has grown up with technology, manmade parks with thrill rides, and even manmade rivers. But these are Cajun boys, used to bayous and the Gulf Coast and all the outdoor things associated with that area. They were suitably impressed. And if Nature was aware they were there, she was suitably impressed with them!
We found a big bear footprint at the water's edge! Our area has had many bear encounters this year. The drought has sent them on the search for food. Several people in my neighborhood have had them in their houses. Not many people in Colorado have air conditioning so there are a lot of open windows at night. That's not even a challenge to a black bear. My friend Angie was at her boyfriend's house last week when one came in the garage, pushed the door to the utility room open, and helped himself to the freezer contents. While she was upstairs! One was in my next door neighbor's garage but I didn't get to see him. I'm hoping to see one, just not in my house! Unfortunately, Colorado has had to euthanize a lot of bears this year. When they associate people with food, it can become dangerous.
We managed to squeeze in the short hike to Treasure Falls also that first day. It was packed with people at that time. The boys took the primitive trail back from the top and somehow managed not to fall off the mountain, although it was touch and go. Haha!
That afternoon we grabbed our tubes and headed down the San Juan! I had been the week before with some friends and I knew the boys would like it. It's a bit more exciting than our Llano River in Junction. You don't do much lazy floating! They've got some manmade whitewater in town and between that and avoiding the rocks along the river bottom, it's nonstop action.
Day two we headed to the national forest to horseback ride with our cowboy outfitter Larry. He had taken me and my son John and his family riding in June and we loved it! We knew all the horses by name and how they acted on the trail. We were looking forward to this ride. But, in the way things happen, Kathy and I didn't get to go, but we did get a story. It was a sad one. A bear had gotten into the corral that week and clawed up some of the horses. Larry said one probably wasn't going to recover to where he could use him for riding again, although they all survived. He showed me the claw marks on Dusty, his horse. He was short some horses that were injured so Kathy and I headed to Durango to shop while the rest went off down the trail.
We returned after lunch and while the boys went tubing again Kathy, Alison, and I went to the hot springs! I'd been trying to make it over there since I got here and never had. It was wonderful! As a senior and a local I can go for only $8, which is a big savings. Everything you hear about how hot springs ease sore muscles is true. This place has about 20 pools with different temps. We relaxed in the 104 degree one. Have to work up to the 113 one! Might save that one for winter, when the snow's on the ground and the stars are above.
Our last day was spent mostly on the San Juan river. The whitewater was gone with the snow melt so we booked a trip further down the river. This would have probably been too tame for the boys and Alison but it included some inflatable kayaks the outfitter called "duckies"! They had fun with those and we learned a lot of history from our river guide, the awesome Ben! He had been our guide in June and we were so glad to have him again. An eagle flew overhead, catching a current and circling around. "I know he'd be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly...." Ali took a turn at the oars when one of the duckies came loose and got stuck on a rock. She climbed out and held us on the shore while Ben retrieved it then she got a feel for river rafting with Ben there to give guidance! We stopped for a while at a huge rock with a deep swimming hole in front and the boys flipped off that for a while. Not to be outdone by her grandsons, Kathy climbed up there and jumped off too!
Throughout the week we had some great food, local beers, Moscow Mules, and live music. It was a wonderful week. Once again the move had done what I hoped. Given me a chance to find some joy in living this life that is so precious, to give the family that loved Rickie so much a place for new adventures, things we would never have known had I kept the ranch. I felt Rickie's hand in everything we did.
It's raining outside now; we've had some showers these last couple of weeks. They call it the monsoon season here, though those of us from Houston and South Louisiana know what real monsoons are. I hope it ripens the gooseberries, wild raspberries, and other food the bears eat and sends them into the woods where they are safe. It's summer now but before long the snow will pull a blanket over both the bears and the land. This beautiful place has given me and my family both adventure and peace. For that I'm grateful. And I know, in spite of all that has happened these last years, I'm a lucky person to live this life of blessings.