September – November

Today is the last day of November, representing for me the last day of autumn from three glorious months. Another farewell to fall. Although a few leaves are still rustling themselves from my one tree, the neighbor behind has two oversize Mulberry trees that are just turning. Fortunately for me, the wind usually blows them right into my raked yard. Does that count for extending my autumn?

Recently I pulled several photo albums off the shelf that was my mother’s. She had dozens of shoeboxes full of photos that had not found a home in her albums. I made that an early task after I brought them all to Arizona, to fill those empty pages. In thinking of fall, my grandmother had large oak trees on two sides of her property. In these pictures are many snapshots over the years of those trees. One is of my dad in his Navy uniform on an early chilly winter day, another of my son at four, raking and burning leaves with great grandma and step grandpa.

Another of my uncle in an army uniform holding a transistor radio. He was Grandma’s youngest and only boy. Of course, she spoiled him. But my point is never can I travel back in time without Grandma’s home, her gardens, her large yard, her daffodils, and her playing the piano or reading, to which these memories dominate my seasons.

The shoeboxes of photos were a treasure to draw from when in the workshop where I first met my soon-to-be, lifelong writers group to date. Until this class ‘writing from photos’, I had no idea what lay hidden. As I say goodbye to autumn, here is one of those poems.  

Autumn 1962

Under a broken sidewalk,

    roots of aged maple and oak trees

    crawl. Evening red, summer gold

    and slumber brown leaves smolder,

    raked into a pile.

Overhead, the winter sky approaches,

  the last of the leaves have vanished,

  their ashes rise sooty, sugary

  and damp.

Grandma grips the rake,

  fire glows in her eyes and

  under the leaves, embers

  burn her skin and presses

  against her stockings.

A photo is snug in her apron pocket,

   her only son, barely a young man,    

   stands below this tree’s molten red leaves

   like lava, waiting to say goodbye.

   His shoulders newly wide enough

   to carry the weight of his Army uniform.

Years ahead, she watches from the door,

  lends a hand and leans the rake against the

cold bark.

   Her black glove dangles with a hole in

   the right thumb, the last of the leaves,

   the last of her autumn held tight within

  her sigh.

Reflections of Change

Autumn has been kind and gentle to us here in Tucson this season. The nights have not dropped below 38 degrees, the days remain between the ’60s to mid-’70s. Evenings quiet with a slight chill to invite a log lite in the fireplace. During the day, I slide open a door and window to allow the warmth of fall to slip into the house.

As I read through others’ blog posts, and read emails from friends or family, those close to my heart or those of new acquaintance, worries wedge in of health, aging, close calls, and uncertainty. I realize at this age in my life, and looking back, my growth has been like a small tree starting its place in the soil. Each year as I have grown, I grew and gained more limbs and vibrant leaves. Each leaf represents those I have gone to school with, worked alongside in various jobs over many years, relatives I have known since birth and now long gone, introductions to strangers that became a delightful newfound friendship, children, nieces and nephews, and anyone else that drifted onto my path. These leaves became thicker and denser with time, but at a certain point in a year, a certain point in life, they drop and flutter to the ground one by one.

Last Friday Jackie speaks of relationship love, child love, animal love, and sister love; all of which are bundles of leaves clinging to a branch, giving us beauty in small doses when we look closely.

On Monday, Diana speaks of gratitude in nature. She reaches toward our natural beauty as a solid substance, knowing nature withstands what we as humans cannot at the times we are weakened by uncertainties that spring up.

I speak of today, the moments that melt into the sound from our very close friend painting my husbands’ car shop, doing repairs in the house and around, tasks that my husband cannot do right now. A friend who didn’t drive down the road or across town to our home, but drove the long distance from Missouri to assist. The motion of self-sacrifice is one of the biggest gifts to give and receive. Like part of a tree, leaves filter through the seasons, and we season with the stream of life.

Take a moment to peer closer at one of your reflections, write a gift you can give to someone, write the gifts others have given you with their time and gather the leaves that rustle with you on your path.  

Hair Block

When I first took writing more seriously, I soon became familiar with the term ‘writer’s block’. I felt instantly intimidated by these these two words. And all the years after, and today, there it is, ‘writer’s block’. Many professional writers we read take a stab at describing their experiences with this neat little term. I felt I was subtly convinced I had a serious problem. In the past, if I sat down to write and didn’t come up with anything, I assumed it was because I just didn’t want to.   

Here is a description from the internet: Writer’s block—wanting to write and not writing—is a persistent problem that every writer (yes, every writer, even Stephen King) deals with. At its simplest, it manifests itself as a lack of ideas. What do I write about? At its most pernicious, writer’s block can convince you that you lack what it takes to be a writer. We’re here to tell you: that’s simply not true.

See here, there is a cure!

I must tie this into a more serious, actual, problem for me right now. I call it ‘hair block’. I have not been to my hairstylist for over three months. I think this issue began during the onset of Covid in 2020. Life shut down and stayed home. This was a set-up for things to come, to realize certain things were not just as bubbly important any longer. Laugh if you will, but I have a small photo album of all the hairstyles, colors, blonde streaks pulled through those head squishing rubber caps, foil wraps, flips, shags, perms, and so forth BECAUSE my hair was very important…it had to make a statement.

Currently, bobby pins are my coolest companions. Like sitting down to write, I stare in the mirror several times a day and go blank. Do I worry? Nah, just as in writer’s block, there is a cure, but my hair story is sure as heck dull. I know the novelist of ideas will come to me as to how I want my next haircut to represent me and I will step with glee with another short story of hair flair.

Nature in Flight

I very recently returned to taking daily walks again, and shame on me once more, for dropping it over a year ago! On my walk yesterday morning I noticed a large dark chocolate color hawk sitting on someone’s backyard chain link fence. He was a beauty. He had a bit of a lighter brown spread across his thick chest. I was afraid if I took my phone out to take a picture, this hawk might think I was pointing with something else and I did not want to interrupt his morning coffee break or my chance of pleasure. Once I got home I looked through the web for hawks in southeastern Arizona and did not find one exactly like this fellow. A Harris hawk came the closest, but still not the same markings.

Neighborhood hawks have been common for years in our area, swooping in to wait and watch for one of the hundreds of Mourning or White-winged dove. These predators are either a Sharp-skinned hawk or Cooper’s hawk or perhaps both, their identity very similar.  At times one will park on the side of my birdbath, take his dip, then fly back to a branch to wait. Such stern patience.

When my cats were smaller, I felt one of these hawks could easily carry my little friend off, and if I spotted a landing, rushed to the kitty to bring it inside, pointing and repeating “bad bird!” My cats have always been indoors, but I  allow them out only when I am with them and then tote under each arm to bring back inside against their exploratory wishes.  

The years we boated on Apache Lake, Red Tail hawks flew over the water like a glimmering thread, pulling their wings into the side and then out, coasting for miles. While we anchored and soaked in the sun or cast a line, their flight path were like spools unwinding, over and over, circles drifting wider and broader. Always as our eyes floated with their pattern, their soaring would take us by a nest of a Bald Eagle high up on a rocky cliff. We let the Red Tail depart, our eyes fixed on the nest with our binoculars.

I am not a professional bird watcher by any means, but like a living being, each has their personality and their reasons by design in doing things their way. Whether I walk our local River Path where coyotes, rattlesnakes, javelina, and various hawks roam, or through my backyard, both are notably full of nature. And when I walk with my cats, we can be surprised at different times of the day by what may be visiting.  

Over the River and Through the Woods

My girl cousins and I would sing this song on our way to Grandma’s house where she lived in the summers into early fall with her second husband. Four of us bounced abroad in the back seat of either my mom’s large and long Oldsmobile or my aunt’s blunderbuss of an Old’s. We changed the words to the song depending on what we saw out the window; Black Eyed Susans, swaying Golden Rod, last of the season’s butterflies, deer coats molting from their summer red to brown, easily blending into the surrounding woods as camouflage and colder weather protection.  

You no doubt picture four little girls, but by then, we were in or out of high school. Something about riding crammed in a wide back seat with moms or aunts behind the wheel brought childhood behavior and moods back. Both of our moms were lead foot drivers and the autumn leaves would spit out from behind the rear tires and swirl into little cyclones before settling back into the three-track dusty road, or on the many little one lane bridges that crossed several creeks. We sang our song of expectation.

This past Monday was a perfectly planned autumn drive. My husband and I and two dear friends packed our lunches, plus deviled eggs, a thermos of coffee, and freshly baked Iced Apple Cider cookies. We headed southeast towards Parker Canyon Lake. The lake is a reservoir formed by a dam in Parker Canyon at the south end of the Canelo Hills in southwestern Cochise County. Parker Canyon is a tributary to the Santa Cruz River in the San Rafael Valley. Natural springs crisscross the road, Collins Spring being one of the longest where tall Cottonwoods line up in their newly dressed autumn gold.

Our trek took us over a portion of the Santa Rita mountains with old mines, high flatlands of working ranches with cattle and horses in Sonoita, and vineyards through Elgin toward the backside of Ft. Huachuca in the Coronado National Forest in Cochise County. A two-lane paved road led us through these fabulous valleys and grasslands, horses grazing to either side, cattle laying amid the tall grasses, their front legs tucked under. Wild turkeys roamed in the fields around them, heedless of their differences in size. Goats, llamas, and chickens shared small pastures, a donkey hanging his head over the fence to chat. Gray squirrels skittered up pinon trees and scrub oak showing their deep gold and red leaves. Ducks and osprey skittered across the lake, ruffling up the water while two separate fishermen, one in a bass boat and the other with his feet propped up on the rail of the dock with his fishing line glistening in the blue soft lap of the lake.  

It was a day of no rush or worries. Foods taste fresher and crisper outdoors, the air is pure and the sun hugs our shoulders. We eventually packed up our lunch goods and headed back toward Tucson. No hurry. These types of drives are easy on the eyes, they relax the constant motion and notions that flog us when at home, work, or doing whatever our daily needs are. We can sit at ease, hum a tune, and enjoy ourselves over a river and through a wood.  

Everything Kould Go…but,

No, this is not a skyline of NYC nor exactly my EKG, but it might be similar. Last Wednesday when it was my turn to post a blog, Diana kindly stepped in. Jackie was in Nebraska visiting her two sisters yet keeping a close eye. Sunday morning prior, I woke to a pressing burning pain across my entire chest area. My husband had gotten up and went to the other end of our house turning coffee on and making himself tea. I, on the other hand, paced back and forth from the studio, bedroom, and bathroom, sat, stood, got a cold rag, paced, sat, and stood. Finally, I wore out and sat on the side of our bed when my husband came in. He talked to me, touched my shoulder, bent to see my dull face and my upper lip sweating. Sentences became shorter until only one word at a time, then only a nod. Allen called 911.

He did the right thing, and I did the right thing by humbly submitting myself to all four good-looking firemen to do whatever they all do with gadgets, lights in the pupils, can you smile, sticky plastic circles, and plugs on my chest, back, arms and what have you and off I went into the ambulance with a nitrate pill dissolving under my tongue.

The last time I was in the hospital was April 1971 giving birth to my only child. That was quite enough for me. Today looking back, I cannot count how many times I have sat with others in open-spaced waiting rooms, walked through cold interior halls crowded with carts, sidestepped beds and wheelchairs, ask questions, and taken numerous endless notes for family and friends, hearing the irritating beeping machines going erratic, prayed and held their hands and wrung mine. I was in total fear it would be me one day. 

Back to Sunday, once the hubbub was concluded in the ER, indications concurred I had had a heart attack. The EKGs did not reveal immediate surgery of any kind would be necessary, but those readings along with the elevated troponin levels from my bloodwork, read my heart was pleading for assistance. I simply turned myself inside out like a sock. I would not, could not, think of any other possibilities other than to be calm, listen, make good decisions, and all would be well. My mind froze on those collected pragmatic notions.

Throughout that Sunday and onto Monday, each time my husband stood by the bed, he repeated, “I’m not supposed to be on this side of the rail.” I can’t count the times he has had heart caths, vascular stint inserts in his veins in his legs, or false fires from a defibrillator device (and not false fires) that had to be replaced. We still held hands no matter who stood or laying down.

Monday afternoon rolled around and my request for a good heart doctor from the team of Pima Heart which my husband has had for years arrived, hung out in my room and gave me total reassurance, plus added, “Just like in the deli line, we are up next, ” waiting on the Cath Lab.

Moments later prepped in the Cath Lab, I felt a slight prick in the wrist, and a tiny sensation up the arm and knew they were peering around my heart, locating one artery 99% blocked, a balloon to allow a stint, and done. Nothing else. No heart damage. “You are going to be good for a very, very long time,” my brilliant cardiologist said. He even squeezed my toes as he spoke. The following late morning on Tuesday my husband drove me home.

It is one week since yesterday I came home. I feel as if I had been on a whirlwind of a trip in someone else’s suitcase. As mentioned in a prior blog, I love autumn, and I just want to share I am going to love it, even more, this season.

Autumn Stepped Through

Each September, I watch to the northeast from our yard in Tucson. Why? Waiting for autumn. The hint for me is when clouds begin to lay low and crawl at the mountain base. I can immediately feel a change in the air. Our summers are brutally hot, washing the sky to a faint white during the day. Yet, if you are an early riser, mornings are the best to hike, bike, garden, tar roofs, build homes, or whatever your fancy may be. I can only speak for myself–heat kills me during the summer, and I get extremely cranky. To add to that, and I will fess up–I am not an early riser. Pooh on me.

This summer we were blessed with more than usual monsoon rains. They danced around, across, and back again, even today, rain shadows behind the Catalina, along the Tortolita to the Tucson Mountain ranges. Clubs of clouds rise tall with power, others flatten out in gunpowder gray and the air picks up. Autumn has teased wickedly and openly all through September and lingered at October’s door. Last Tuesday on the fourth, Autumn stepped through.

As a kid in the Midwest, fall was full. Full of arts and crafts festivals, fall drives, the annual antique road show that stretches for miles along Spoon River, endless miles of crackly cornfields ready for harvest, hay rides, apple orchards bursting to be picked, and pranks. In Chapter 2 of our book, my story of tipping outhouses, a generational legacy, always came in the fall. Why? (Here is that question again)…because.

In Tucson, the teasing of autumn has kicked out the 100s, allowed the 90s, and paved the way for low 80s during the day and low 60s at night. Shortly, the Arizona Ash and Mulberry trees will begin to change clothing as the temperatures slide easily downward and closet the green and bring on the gold, red, and orange. Strings of thin cobwebs will crisscross in the air, the slant of the sun lower and longer, rays like a soft down comforter.  

Colors of amber and spice creep out of cupboards and pantries, maple, pumpkin, salted caramel, stews, and rising bread, apples cooked down for applesauce, butter or jelly, sliced up for pies, and tossed into Saturday morning pancakes. Crockpots and recipes, family familiar or new experimentation, all in the palette of fall.      

It is our season, our time, our patch of autumn. I will visit with autumn and you again in my blog to share a favorite recipe and perhaps, another teenage prank not mentioned in the book. There are quite a few.

Climb Inside a Daisy and Sit

In Jackie’s last Friday blog, she brought up marketing. We are finding out the time it takes to include research of possible businesses for our book, introductions in person, names and note keeping, follow-ups, updates, contacts, emails, zoom discussions, phone calls, interviews with local newspapers and magazines, and to score book launch opportunities and hopefully a podcast. I swore I would not allow this to control or take over my life once I realized the time it takes. I became aware that this type of dedication could easily turn into a type of aggravation and flow over to those near at hand. I had to fight with myself to use balance, not to forget the smaller things that give me pleasure, to equalize that poise in day-to-day life to treat myself well and others.    

An example is one morning some time ago in my ‘morning pages’ I write: I noticed my cats, Tango and Maisie outside exploring. My husband took them out after breakfast, their insistent ritual, a tiny pleasure to explore the early morning before the neighborhood grows heavy with sun and activity. He walks with his tea, mindless. I watch from the screened-in porch…Tango follows his idol and wraps his long fluffy pale-yellow tail around his pants, unmoving except for the light swish, tap, swish of his tail against the cotton pant leg. My husband looks down and says something. Tango looks up and I see his mouth open and close, replying. Tango moves on and stands on a large flat rock with a fossil from the Town Creek where I grew up in Illinois. He sits poised, stares at the edge of the rock, then pounces on something tiny that I cannot see. It jumps, a grasshopper, and Tango is on it, his two paws batting and holding it down. Crunch crunch. 

Maisie sees this and runs from behind the ferns and sneaks low through the lantana, her eyes fixed on Tango. She finds a bare spot where a few days ago I pulled out a Yellow Bell, the dirt still soft. Maisie folds her body into it, head low on her front paws, and continues to fixate on Tango. She spins and plops, spins and plops, chasing nothing. Tango easily ignores her antics. He continues on his stroll, steps unto the brick path, and drops and rolls.

A shadow flies low overhead, a red-crested woodpecker, and lands on the Mulberry tree in the neighbor’s yard. Tango sees it dip, rise, dip, rise, and land on the trunk. He turns his head away and licks his front paw. I smell the drift of hot coffee steaming in the cool morning, and the open sweetness from the Pink Star Jasmine. When in bloom, it’s like a slow sultry jazz note from New Orleans. I now know what jazz smells like. 

It’s Wednesday morning and the garbage truck breaks my rumination. It throttles and rattles down and up the streets, louder, whining and thuds the heavy-duty plastic cans to the sidewalk. It is time to move about and get our day on track. Here kitty, kitty, kitty, time to come in and leave our daisies behind.

Reading this brought me to the present when I went back inside then, and as I go now. I can balance my tasks, my new responsibilities as we move forward with our book and how I can enjoy this new experience! Time and balance to encompass all the necessities as well as the tiny ones I might otherwise overlook.

A Wee Too Early

In my very early 20s, I worked at a private duck club on Grand Island, a short ferry ride across a channel in the Illinois River, from Bath, population 400. Two duck seasons each, mid-October to early December. To be a member of this private club, one was required to have a net worth of no less than one million dollars, and to be male. One week during each season, the wives were included, and most never came, just the hunters and their expensive 12-gauge shotguns, and their dogs—Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, English Springer Spaniels, or Labradors.

A few weeks ago, I did a blog regarding old journals and diaries, tossing most. Some of the following notes I found in a red spiral notebook and transferred to my laptop. The two seasons were an enlightening experience (and many of the ‘whys’ will not be listed…yet). These short entries were delightful to revisit, silly tidbits, mice in the pantry, raccoons hammering around underneath the lodge, the fact being all the buildings were built on stilts due to flooding season. In the early morning rounds I would straighten up rooms with expensive luggage, hunting jackets, boots, watches, mismatched socks, and reading an opened note or two from a wife with a gripe.

Each morning our tasks started before sunup. The two managers and three staff did not have days off because rarely was a hunter, or two, not on the grounds during the two and half month season. I hated getting up in the dark, fumbling around to find shoes, and warm clothing, running a comb through long tangled hair, and the water heater pipes not working fast enough to allow warm water to flow from the downstairs to the upstairs bathroom when I splashed my face and brushed my teeth. Cripes! Once I got downstairs and entered the kitchen to warm lights, frying bacon, and hot biscuits, I began to wake up. Mary was in her early 70s hired as the cook for the hunters and staff that first year. She always had a hot cup of tea ready for me. I adored her. Allow me to share a few of these notes.

Field notes from my journal: A very large wall-to-wall bay window faced east in the main gathering room of the clubhouse. I loved the smell of cigars, embers from the large rock fireplace, and the chill that clung to the fabrics and leather. At times on my early morning rounds, as the sun was barely breaking the horizon, I stood at this large window. No ripples, no wind. A stillness so quiet you could hear it. Some of the trees were bare from the approaching winter settling in while others held the dried leaves of autumn to their wet branches. Other mornings, the water would be rough with white caps across the wider side of the river to the shoreline. The wind caught and pulled the leaves off the trees and tossed them into the water to be washed away around the broad curve flowing south.

The hunters and their rowdy dogs would be fed from the kitchen and loaded up into their small skiffs with their ‘pushers’, motoring across the still river to thicker portions of dense brush. Sometimes I could catch the black silhouettes of these anxious figures along the distant bank.

The daily hunt consisted of taking two hunters in a skiff to the slough, using the “kicker” (outboard motor) until the water became too shallow, then ‘pushing’ the boat with a pole or paddle to the blind, where they would set the hunters up with boxes for seats, spread out the decoys over the water, leaving an open area for ducks to land.

As the sun rose, the ducks began to move and paddle leisurely about and bob up and down in the water. Others flew over to circle in for a landing or keep going on to another feed area. It made me feel at peace with myself as I watched from the big window out onto the misty water. Ducks called in the distance, geese honked, and then a ‘boom-boom crack-crack’ split the silence instantly. Mallards, American Widgeon, and Northern Pintail, to name a few, fluttered over and off one another as the dogs hit the water.

The morning I looked out the window toward the far shore for the last time that season, nature gave me a goodbye. The entire eastern bank as far south, or north as I could see, was fiery red, and the reflections glowed in the motionless water to paint an exact double vision. A still-life, to remind me of the language of sight.

Enjoy reflections in your writing!

Painters to Poets

In July 2002, seven of us were fortunate enough to have a workshop at a private home in Tucson taught by the poet, Gina Franco. She teaches poetry writing, 18th & 19th-century British literature, Gothic literature, poetry translation, Borderland writing, religion and literature, and literary theory at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She was awarded the Philip Green Wright-Lombard Prize for distinguished teaching. She earned degrees from Smith College and Cornell University.

I recently pulled out my files of classes and workshops and thumbed back to 2002. (My writers’ group jokingly refers to me as ‘the historian’ of our writing life.) I read through my notes from this workshop. I also tend to scribble notes not relative to the topic at hand or draw sketches of other classmates if I get bored, but in this file, there were none of those side tracks.

The content was a very intense route of the historians up through the modernists and how these poets were influenced by St. Augustine’s confessions, and how others used it to fit or create a new style of poetry. Post-WWII, many moved into abstraction vs. concrete, wanting to get away from the ‘feeling’, the deep-down confessional and traditional way of expression. Long story short—loose, individual culture, voice, and finding that individual voice on the page came about. Gina then compared short story writing to poetry, using omniscient, an exaggerated first person as in ‘I”, reactionary, stream of consciousness, arbitrary, conflict, and many more.

Alas, during this workshop, my head ached at the end of each meeting. In some of the discussions, I was crystal clear on structure, enjambed, stress syllables, expository, juxtaposition, and other times, my brain crinkled up like a small paper bag, and I down shifted to neutral to coast to the next refreshment break. I did not even have the energy to doodle.

At the end of the workshop, that last night, I was far too overstimulated, at the same time, far too exhausted I could barely drive home. One thing stuck, what the expressionists were doing with paints, the poets wanted to do with words. Images by painters were coveted by poets. As an artist, I got this transition. 

Poetry as I know it is an elegant dance. Strokes and splashes make meaning from memory and makes meaning from objects, and art into words. Like brushstrokes in a painting, words can transform onto a page to create a multidimensional world. With words, a poet can create crisp images and evocative descriptions that capture sensory perceptions in the ‘mind’s’ eye.

The few workshops I have taken on poetry have always drawn something out of me. On the last evening, I was thrilled when Gina gave us another prose poem to study, then pick five words that resonated with you personally, and write.

The birch sways with an imbalance

and I worship with a prayer of wild violets.

The darkness rises above my head

and the trunk of the birch splits dark red.

Rising is unreachable, filling my eyes

with evening rain, and peace wanders in

like a garden.

Give poetry another look.