In The Studio | Ramblings by Rose Mary

Love  And  Marriage,  Friends And Family

Henry David Thoreau was turned down by a woman whom he loved until his death. He said that the only cure for love was to love more.

     Can anything compare to a companionable spouse and family? How fortunate I’ve been – not only in having my own family, but Bill’s! The older I become, the more that I have realized that I have many acquaintances, but very few friends. Below are some of Thoreau’s words about friendship:

Friends cherish one another. They are kind to one another’s dreams

Friendship is a miracel… It is an exercise of the purest impagination and of the rearst faith.

The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend.

Be true to your work, your word and your friend.

MEMOIRS  OF  A  BEAST  OF  BURDEN -THE  NEWLYWEDS-

As a Realtor, I took great pleasure from visiting homes. It warmed my heart to see the looks of pride and affection on the faces of couples when they showed off their various do-it-yourself projects. They’d say, “We papered this room ourselves!” or “Bob is such a good plumber!” or “Betty made the curtains!” As I watched their smug pride, I smiled when I visualize what really went on during their efforts.  

     My speculations were confirmed by my sister Christine. Orville had once worked as a carpenter and did all of their remodeling with Christine as his helper. she especially hated to help hang wall paper. It was, “Christine! Too much paste! Too much paste!” or “Not enough paste, not enough paste! Must you slop paste on the good side of the paper?… Christine! You’ve cut it too short again! Too long, too long!”

     My initiation took place soon after our marriage when we bought a new refrigerator and decided to move the old one to the basement. I said, “We’ll get a couple of friends to help.” We don’t need help; we can do it ourselves.” I have heard this phrase all during the years of our marriage. Self-reliance is the trait of a do-it-yourselfer. “Don’t worry! I have a plan.” Another phrase I’ve often heard during our marriage. “You just help me push the refrigerator to the basement door.”

     There was much grunting, moaning and panting interspersed with “Left, Rose Mary. You’re pushing it to the right. Left, left, left!” “Whose left,” I yelled. “Yours or mine?”

     We manhandled the fridge to the basement door where we discovered that it was half an inch too wide. Sighing, Bill said, “Help me back it up-I’ll have to take the door off.”

     He announced the plan: “I’ll tie this nice thick rope that I’ve been keeping in the trunk of the car around the fridge. Then we’ll lay it on its back and lower it down the stairs.” He paid no attention to my query about the age of the rope. While we were laying it down, he yelled, “My toe! That was my toe! You always turn loose of things too soon!” True, this has been one of my many shortcomings.

     Bill sat on the floor with his legs extended on either side of the fridge. “Now, I’ll brace my feet against the sides of the doorway, and then we’ll let it down. Now, we’ll push it gently and slowly… Easy… easy, dear…That’s it!” Thus encouraged, I gave it a really hard shove. The rope broke with a large snap, followed by and awful grinding noise and a loud bang. As I left to go to the bedroom, the last thing I saw was Bill, mouth agape, and holding a frayed piece of rope. I went to the bedroom because even the stupidest wife of a do-it-yourselfer know better than to laugh in front of him. The fridge still worked perfectly. Why is it that his stuff always turns out fine, but my botches – such as the time I cut the curtains two inches short – can’t be fixed?

MEMOIRS  OF  A  BEAST  OF  BURDEN -THAT  OLD  HOUSE-

We decided to buy “our very own home.” Since I had left teaching, we couldn’t afford much. We found a turn-of-the-century, four-bedroom house on N. Ritter that was in an estate. It was a “charmer” with big rooms, two fireplaces, two window seats, hardwoods natural woodwork.

     You understand, Rose Mary, we won’t be able to hire help. We’ll have to do everything ourselves.”

     We learned about Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – two hours before closing when the Realtor told us that someone had broken off a water faucet upstairs so that the water had run all over the house. He said, “It’ll be a better house than it was before.”  We used a steamer and a razor blade to remove the paint-soaked wallpaper. Termites swarmed; We hadn’t known enough to ask for a clear termite report. The down-stairs woodwork had to be stripped and refinished because of boiling water from the steamer. Since I had no fix – it talents, my lot became such things as the dull chore of filling cracks in the plaster.

     We got through that first year with a minimum of bickering. Now it was time to tackle major remodeling. First, as a sort of hors d’oeuvre that might have left Bill hors de combat, he decided to paint the topmost trim of the three-story house. The ladder wouldn’t reach that height, so he positioned it on the porch roof. I was certain that I’d be a widow by evening. Bill looked down and saw me crying. “Are you crying? Well how do you think that makes me feel. Stop it right now!” That wasn’t the last time that I shed tears.

     The kitchen ceiling was ready to tumble down. No one should be admitted to the brotherhood of do-it-yourselfers until they’ve knocked down and replaced a plaster ceiling. Heavy chunks of plaster danger-ously come crashing down, and soot like dirt and grit fill the air and penetrate your eyes, your hair and clothing. It took one evening to knock down the plaster and several days to clean everything in the house.

     Next sheets of plasterboard had to be carried in. Plasterboard is limber, heavy and fragile. “Now we must be very careful not to knock off the corners, Dear,”  Bill said in the most patient, husbandly voice.

Bet me!

     I asked how we were going to get the sheets of plasterboard up to the nine-foot-tall ceiling. Ignoring my suggestion that we needed help, Bill announced his plan: He brought in a big “T” that he’d nailed together out of two-by-fours. He said, “I’ll climb the ladder with a sheet of plasterboard and hold it against the ceiling. You hoist the other end up, using the “T” to brace it, and I’ll nail it in place.

     He went up the ladder: “Now!” he yelled. “Get your end under the “T”! Hurry!” It was impossible to hurry with a heavy nine-foot two-by-four in a small kitchen. “Hurry!” he moaned.

     “I’m hurrying, I’m hurrying.”

     He shrieked, “Get it straight!” Husband, plasterboard and “T” made a rapid descent. Leaning against the wall, he said quietly, “It was my intent that you would lift your end and brace it rather than knocking me off the ladder with my cross.” Resignedly, “Lets start over.”

     Finally I said, “I simply cannot manage a nine-foot-long two-by-four. Let me be the beast of burden and go up the ladder while you manage the board.”

     Weak-kneed, I got half way up the ladder.

     “Are you ok, hon?”

     “Don’t talk to me – just hurry!” I screeched. At last the first board was in place. Bill came up the ladder and nailed it. The second sheet was easier. I stumbled up the ladder with the third sheet that had one inch cut off it to fit as it butted against the wall. Bill braced his end while I balanced mine against the ceiling with my head since my arms were as limp as spaghetti. It overlapped the preceeding board.

I said, “It doesn’t fit,”

“Push it over.”

I pushed. “No good.”

“It has to fit!” he roared.

I yelled, “It doesn’t.”

He joined me on the ladder.

     “Sigh… You’re right; it’s a quarter of an inch too wide at this end. The ceiling is crooked.” There’s no such thing as a straight line in an old house. From that point on, every sheet had to be taken up, marked and taken back down and cut before being installed.

     I was grateful when our neighbor brought in a pitcher of lemon-aid. However, I suspected that she came to gloat just as I had done when her husband, a professional carpet installer, yelled “Damn it Linda! You tracked adhesive all over the new tiles.”

     Our worst argument cam when Bill decided to move a big cedar wardrobe our predecessors had left in the attic and turn it into a backyard playhouse for Vicki. “We’ll never get this thing down these narrow stairs. It’s too heavy.”

“Don’t let it slip! Don’t let it fall on me!”

“I can’t hold it much longer.”

“Don’t you dare let go!”

At last, after grunting, pushing and pulling, we were at the bottom of the narrow stairs. The wardrobe was wedged like a cork in a bottle.

I said from my position up in the stairway, “I thought you said you measured it.”

“I did measure it,” Bill yelled. “It’s half and inch too wide.”

“Now what are you going to do?” I snarled. “I don’t have time to be stuck in the attic all day.”

He said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Later: “You have to do something soon because I have to use the bathroom.” (This has been the norm during the most difficult times.)

Eventually he had to cut it in two with a saw in order to move it. By this time, he was so angry with me that he wouldn’t even let me help him carry it out. “Obviously, you did not wish to help me. I’ll do it myself.” When he heard that I was writing about our fix-up experiences, he said, “You’re going to include the wardrobe story, aren’t you?” After all these years, he isn’t angry anymore, but I’m not so sure about me!

BATS  IN  OUR  BELFRY  AND  SPIDERS IN OUR BATH

During the first summer we were married, en route to California we arrived in Las Vegas at 2:00 AM and stopped at the first available motel. I noticed that the door didn’t fit tightly. Las Vegas is in the desert, and in the desert live tarantulas. “Don’t worry!” said Bill.

     While I was brushing my teeth I saw out of the corner of my eye large black shapes hopping around. “Spiders!”  I shrieked. “Spiders in the bathroom!” I lunged out of the bathroom, tripped and fell onto our heavy suitcase.

     “For heaven’s sake! Rose Mary, those are not spiders; they’re crickets!”

     “I don’t care. If crickets can get in so can tarantulas.”

     “Rose Mary, there are no tarantulas here. Crickets wouldn’t stay anywhere near tarantulas. Anyway, Hon, tarantulas are shy creatures and much more frightened of you than you are of them,” he informed me in his most patient, most husbandly voice.

     Go tell it to the marines!  

     “… Look what you’ve done!” I had broken the latch on our Samsonite suitcase that was advertised as being indestructible.

     I discovered that the Clarke family is not invincible. One night I met Bill hustling along as he returned from a campground restroom. He had his jacket pulled up over his head. “What’s going on?”

     “Bats!” Bats flying around the light! No Clarke can stand ‘em. They get in your hair, lay eggs and drive you crazy!” 

     “Pooh! That’s just an old wives’ tale. Bats have sonar, A bat won’t run into you unless it’s ill.”

     “Yeah that means it’s rabid.”

     In my most soothing voice I said, “Dear that’s highly unlikely. Bats are very beneficial. They eat tons of mosquitoes, Actually, a bat is just a mouse with wings.” Ever the linguist, I instructed, “In fact the Berman word is Fledermaus – flying mouse.”

     “I don’t want to hear about it.”

     Bill has an ashtray that says, “Don’t confuse me with the facts!” We know that our phobias are illogical. We developed a mutual defense pact. Fortunately, we are phobic about the same things!  

     I dreaded it when there was a bat in our Irvington house because I knew whose job it was to get rid of it. Bill’s brother–in–law, playing chivalrous knight to Bill’s sister’s damsel in distress, whopped bats with a tennis racket which their sonar doesn’t detect. After reading this essay, one of Bill’s nephews said, “Why do you think we keep a tennis racket on each side of our bed?” Bill’s teenage nephew and he carefully calculated the ricochet and shot a bat in the basement with a .22!

     Knowing that bats can be rabid, I carried an open umbrella for protection while going through my bat drill. I proceeded from room to room, turning off lights behind the intruder until, continually attracted to light, it’d fly out the the porch light. I was probably considered a neigh-borhood eccentric by those who saw me wantering around under an imbrella in our house at night while Bill watched through the window.

     One summer night the sheet under which we were sleeping went SWOOSH! “What’s going on?” I yelled.

     Next to me lay a mummy-like figure. “Bat!Bat!”

     “Dear you’re just dreaming,” I said in my honeyed tone, hoping he’d go back to sleep so I wouldn’t have to get up at 3:00 AM. I lay there, staring at the white ceiling. Sure enough, a black shape cam fluttering through.

     “There too is a bat!”

     “All right, all right, I’m getting up,” I grumbled.

     One night after we came home from a movie I was making coffee. I heard a faint voice from upstairs:

     “Rose Mary…”

“What?”

Mumble, Mumble: “Rose Mary…”

“Well what?”

“Bat, bat!”

“Where are you?”

“…closet.”

I leisurely started the bat drill. “Rose Mary…hurry!”

“You’ll have to be patient”

Faintly: “I have to use the bathrooom!”

We camped in Colorado at a campground that had pit toilets. One evening at dusk, there were long, long legs on the wall. I sidled out and ran to Bill. Not wanting to pass my fear onto Vicki, I whispered breathlessly, “You know those things I don’t like? There’s a really mammoth one in the women’s toilet.”

     “Well, what do you expect me to do? I cannot go in there.”

     “You have to. If you don’t I’ll never be able to go in there again! PLEASE!” Urgent whisper: “I swear to God it’s a trantula.”

     “Oh for heaven’s sake. All right, I’m coming.” When he came out he was laughing so hard that he could barely speak. “Come here and look.”

     “No!”

     He yanked me into the toilet and shined the flashlight on the wall. “Your tarantual is nothing but a knothoke with a bunch of cracks around it.”

     Red-faced, I said “Well , it sure looks real, doesn’t it? could have fooled anyone!”

     One night Jean, Sherry and Hal were sleeping in the main cabin of the houseboat. Jean sensed something flying back and forth above her face. She turned on the light. Bat! Like a pair of ghosts, she and Sherry stood with sheets over their heads while a sleepy Hal tried unsuccessfully to find the bat. The next day they lied to Bill and told him that it had flown out.

     We don’t have bats in our current home, but Bill still has to defend me against spiders. Last summer I stood on a bench while Bill whopped a huge one with the fly swatter! Mother swooped spiders up in towels and flung towel and all into the yard. Sometimes there were two or three towels out there until she figured the spiders had decamped. Vicki didn’t inherit our phobias. Instead she’s afraid of snakes. Go figure!

I  CAN  STILL  HEAR  THEIR   VOICES

The night grows late. If we’re at Bill’s sister Pat’s house, she plays the piano. Glasses are lifted, and voices are raised in one song: Bill’s brother Rick says, “Here’s a good one.” He warbles “I’ve got a girl just like the girl who married dear old Dad.” Next the Do-wah’s perform, using whisks and kitchen spoons as microphones. Composed of Bill and his nephews and nieces, the group originated during a Qualifications weekend house party at our house. “Gonna’ take a sentimental journey…” Rick’s wife Esther, starts “Grandma’s Lye Soap,” followed by a Michigander song about a little Dutchman, Johnny Brubeck who ground up all the neighbor’s cats and dogs in his sausage machine. On through the repertoire that includes English songs taught by Bill’s father and later songs such as “The Mashed Potato” and “Blowin’ In The Wind.” Vicki who’s up way past her bedtime keeps asking, “When are they going to do it?” Children attend what Vicki called “Clarke Parties” because there are no dirty jokes or swearing. At last Bill’s brother, Jack begins, “Oh I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts….” and leads a conga line around through the house.

     Parties at Joyce’s home included political debates that Bill, Joyce and their brother, Lex, loved. Lex’s wife, Sally, and several others detested them. One memorable night, to get his turn, Bill stood on a chair and yelled, “I have the floor!” Bill and I went to bed at 3:00 AM on cots in the back room that adjoined the kitchen. He awakened me at 6:00, wailing plaintively, “Rose Mary, can you cope?” One whole side of his head was white. Vicki had emptied Joyce’s sugar and flour canisters on him.

     My family played cards. Dad and Mom played bridge with Earl and Toots, and Dad and my brother Earl, played cribbage. The family gathered for Sunday afternoon poker parties. I remember still lying in bed and hearing my Uncle Ivan or Aunt Nola shout, “Pedro!” or Mary Beck yell, “Shoot the moon!: My mother, sisters, nieces and I played Canasta. The dialogue was always, “Pass me some of those chips,” interspersed with “I’ve seen better hands on a horse!” or “Please don’t go out!” I invented The Whiners and the Diners Society with Christine as President (POW), Beverly as Secretary (SOW) and Virginia as Chaplain (CHOW).

     I hear out people still, singing, arguing and shouting…

THE  GREAT  SHOE  HUNT

“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes!”

Henry David Thoreau – Walden

Since Vicki is a mature woman, I had none of the usual mother-of- the bride duties or dithers when she and Tom had a big church wedding. Ah! There was none of the snipping and sniping that sometimes happens between the stressed bride and mother.

     Bill said in April, “Shouldn’t you start looking for something to wear?”

     “There’s plenty of time,” Translation: I was hoping to lose weight since I’d added a gress size – let’s be honest and make that two – since we were married.

     Shopper Vicki offered to help. We hit Von Maur first and found a glitzy top to be worn with white jeans at the rehersal. Then we found a chanpagne-colored suit at Penny’s. By this time, exhaustion had set in; and our toungs were hanging out. I treated us to margaritas followed by a pedicure. Ah, the life of a sybarite shared with a companionable daughter is delightful!

     Next came shoes. Jean offered to go shoe shopping with me at Nordstom. Jean can find five or six pairs of adorable shoes for under $20 a pair. She had no idea of what was to come.

     Not for me Mosstsies Tootsies and other cute, inexpensive shoes in a variety of colors. I never ask for a certain style or color. Instead, I say, “Please bring out whatever you have.” And then I take what I get or leave the store once abain with no shoes! Understanding that my shoes are rediculously expensive, Bill gave me $150 for my birthday.

     Nordstrom prides itself on its huge selection of shoes. The nice clerk asked by size. “Eleven five-A.” The length is bad enough, but five-A with a seven-A heel is impossible. He flinched, but finally produced a few boxes. Ooh! There was this darling pair of gold, mid-heel sandals for only $65. Oh how I wanted those shoes! I took a few steps. They were just a teensy bit too wide so that my toes slid out over the edge of the sole. Sigh….

     Cathy the cartoon character, is packing for vacation. Clutching a pair of shoes to her bosom, she exclaims, “Leave these behind? NEVER!… I love these!… The minute I saw them, I dreamed of the places we’d go together… Every desitnation requires these. I couldn’t leave them! I’ll never leave them!” He husband things, “Just once, I’d like to have the same grip on her heart as her metallic gladiator shoes.”

     Shoes satisfy something in the feminine psyche. Not so with males. If the average man has a pair each of brown and black dress shoes, athletic shoes and perhaps sandals, he is content. Bill says “I don’t see what the big deal is. No shoe is an object of beauty.” Tell that to Jean or Oprah!

     Everyone longs to be “in.” Shoes were just another way in which I was out. All that my long suffering mother could find were Buster Brown Girl Scout shoes that I despised. Oh how I wept when I couldn’t have patent leather Mary Janes to wear for Easter. “I won’t go to church!”

     “Oh yes you will! And I’ve had just about enough of this, Miss!” Picture little Rose Mary in a pink, lace-trimmed dress, had, white gloves and ugly, brown lace-up shoes! I just knew that everyone in church was looking at my feet. The low point was when I had to wear boys’ black basketball shoes for gym long before it was fashionable for females to wear them. Sobbing, I wailed, “Why can’t you cut my toes off?”

THE  GREAT  SHOE  HUNT – CONTINUED – 

          “Lets try here, “ Jean suggested at a small shop.

“Ok but it won’t work,” Nada!

Carson Pirie Scott had nothing.

     When I was twelve Mother discovered Stout’s Shoe Store in Indi-anapolis – oh blessed day! I remember perfectly my first pair of pretty shoes – black suede, sling-back flats with a flower design cut out of the tip. “We’ll try Stout’s, and if they don’t have something, I’ll paint a pair of my old shoes.”

     “Now Rose!”

     “I’m not kidding. I painted a pair of shoes silver and wore them for ten years!”

     Most of the six pairs of shoes at Stout’s were business or old ladies’ shoes. However, there was a stylish pair with straps of a varigated pattern. “Ooh what gorgeous shoes!” exclaimed Jean. The straps were secured with Velcro that could be pulled tight so that my long toes wouldn’t slip out the end.

     Only a woman will understand that I was stricken with shoe lust. I bought those shoes, and only my closest friends and relatives know how much I paid for them. Put it this way, Bill’s gift wasn’t enough.

     We went for a celebratory glass of wine. Jean call friend Jana: “This woman is shurely one of the most hard-to-fit woen in America.” By the time we got home, I was guilt-stricken at having spent more than I’ve ever paid for clothing, including my best business suits and coats. Bill said, “Rose Mary, don’t foret that you had to pay $50 for shoes many years ago.”

     After the wedding, Jeans husband, Bill, said, “Love your shoes! I saw them when you walked down the aisle.”

     Friend Jim said, “You should tell Bill that you want to be buried in those shoes.” Now, of course, I’m afraid to wear the darn things!

     Next came the pantyhose debacle: I bought two pairs of ultra sheer hose. Wisely I tried them on in advance. I couldn’t get the ones with a control top past my thighs. The others were too short. During dinner a third pair slid down to the middle ofmy belly, and its waistband was rollled up and cut into my flab so that I was in agony. What women do for style!

     I should have listened to Thoreau.

A  Year  Later

     Jean called with some important statistics. She decided that she had too many shoes and was calling with the results.

     Jean is a spiritual sister of Oprah, a major shoe maven. Oprah called in a professional organizer to help her purge her huge closet. The organizer asked about a fancy pair of high-heeled boots. Oprah admitted that she never wore them, and the organizer suggested that they be put with the clothes that were going to be auctioned off for charity. “I can’t get rid of these, “ Oprah replied. “They’re closet art!”

     Jean told me what a delightful experience it was going through her boxes and boxes and boxes of shoes: “I had such fun. I’d open a box and say to myself, ‘Oh! These are so cute!’ I had even forgotten some of my shoes.”

     Here are the statistics:

Thrown away                    2 pairs

Donated to charity             4 pairs

Athletic shoes                    4 pairs

Winter                              27 pairs

Summer                            44 pairs

     I mentioned that one of our mutual friends has only eight pairs of shoes. Jean replied, “There is something wrong with any woman who wears a normal size and has only eight pairs of shoes!” Friend Leslie Bady has Jean beat! After reading this, she got rid of 65 pairs of shoes!

In The Studio |Ramblings by Rose Mary

Nature

I Have Lived For Nature

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature.” One of the reasons why his writing resonates so strongly with me is his deep appreciation of nature. When I sort through my internal photograph album and the columns that I’ve written I see that one of the most important things that I have lived for through all the seasons of my life is the beauty of nature.   

     The process of living – whether it’s the hermit crab’s moving into a new shell when it has outgrown an old one, the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly or the survival of the oldest thing living thing on Earth, a bristle cone pine named Methuselah, never ceases to amaze me. I am reminded that each life is unique and precious.

     Sarah Ward set us a planter of amaryllis bulbs that produced red flowers as large as saucers. There would be two flowers at the top of the stem and two buds that would grow alongside them until a tinge of red appeared, The the first blooms began to droop while the new ones opened. This seems so simple, and yet is so complex. An elegant mechanism must be built into the plant’s genes that directs old blooms to wilt at the proper time so that the sustenance goes to nourish the buds that they might reach glorious maturity.

     I have lived for meadows of wildflowers in the Teton and Rocky mountains, the risings and settings of the sun and for moonglow, I have lived for the call of the cardinal, the loon’s cry and the silvery trill of the wren. I have lived for the blues of the Mediterranean and the Pacific, the vastmess of the Grand Canyon, the vividly hued pinnacles of Bryce Canyon, the leaves of autumn, the snows of winter and daffodils nodding in the April breeze.

     Oh what treasures I’ve stored up in the mind’s eye and ear that are worth more than any amount of money in the bank!

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UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH NATURE

Up Close & Personal With Nature - Otter
Up Close & Personal With Nature – Otter

Above me it is beautiful,

Below me it is beautiful,

Before me it is beautiful,

Behind me it is beautiful,

All around me it is beautiful.

Listen to the quiet power of beauty.

Indian Chant

Ah, to be with nature! Picture this: Vicki and I are on the top deck of a houseboat on one of the lakes connected by streams that form the huge labyrinthine water-world of Voyageur National Park at the boundary of Minnesota and Canada. An eyebrow of sun peeps over the dense, dew-drenched forest that extends for miles. With the coming of daylight, the water turns blue/purple so that

I understand what Homer meant when he wrote about the wine-colored waters of the Mediterranean. Puffy clouds float on the blue vault of    Heaven. Below them the lake is a silver/blue mirror. It’s so beautiful that it clutches at my heart.

     Shh! Don’t say a word, don’t breathe. Listen to the quiet: Silence has its own unique quality just as do the notes of a symphony. The quietude and loveliness of this place soaks into the very core of my being where the secret Rose Mary dwells, and fill me with peace and serenity.

19

     Such moments of total oneness with the universe are rare, and I carefully examine, catalogue, and store them away so that I can replay my internal view of them in years to come: the scent of wild roses and clean dry earth on the Grand Canyon’s rim: sunrise turning Bryce Canyon’s pinnacles to flame; the pungent aroma of wild sage after a shower at Canyon de Chelly on the Navajo reservation; a wildflower-strewn meadow below the snowy peaks of my beloved Tetons where a moose browses next to a rushing brook into which a water ouzel dives; glorious sunrises and sunset over the ocean; the Adirondacks in autumn; the view of the Pacific from California’s coastal highway…

     The things remind me of the vastness and beauty of this land that is my heritage. A part of me will always dwell among them, stooping to examine a flower, listening to the lap-lap of waves or the wail of gulls, walking barefoot on the seashore…

     I put down my pen and listen with my whole being when a loon utters its wild, free call, I imagine myself as free as the creatures of this place. Perhaps I would soar on the empyrean like a gull or perch like a bald eagle on the tiptop of a pine, surveying my empire. I might stand with pelicans and cormorants on a rock, watching for whom I might devour or live deep in the forest with the shy wolves.

     We were thrilled when an otter swam into the little cove where our boat was moored, It would stick its head out of the water, look around and then with a graceful, arching back dive and resurface with a fish. It would float on its back like a baby with a bottle and devour bones and all, so close that we could hear it. “Crunch, crunch, crunch, munch, munch, munch!” Ah wilderness!

     Ouch! Paradise has its price, We have yet to encounter a snake in the Eden, but there must be ten thousand bugs for every human: spider, Mayflies, clouds of no-see-ums, huge mosquitoes and horrible black, stinging flies. The stores even sell net hats with nets like bee-keepers’ headgear. We agreed that we would never tent-camp here.

     I think that one of the most offensive and ignorant statements that I’ve ever heard was, “What does it matter if some birds or animals become extinct? We can look at them in zoos.” I may never see another otter or hear another loon, but the memory of them is stored in the center of my being and seeing them and the other creatures of this place-living free- has enriched me.

     Of course, I know that neither the loons nor the eagles nor the wolves nor I are entirely free. It’s nice to imagine that it were so…

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A  PLACE  I’LL  ALWAYS  BE

Friends Bill and Jean asked what they should see out West. “Grand Teton National Park is one of the most beautify places in America!” Les Grands Tetons was slang used by French fur trappers who thought that the mountains resembles women’s breasts. Grands means big; you can figure out Tetons! Snow-capped peaks rise straight up out of pine forests. Blue lakes from a sapphire necklace at their feet. To the East are hills the the trappers named Gros Ventre-Big Belly.

     Bill called to say  that they were at Jenny Lake. I saw what they were seeing in my mind’s eye because Jenny Lake was one of our favorite places to camp. It always took me a long time to cook a meal on the Colman stove because I had to stop frequently to admire Grand Teton Mountain that rises up orver 14,000 feet.

     Down a hill next to the lake is a little grocery. The first time we were there, I thought that the place had been invaded by a nunch of hippies because unshave, barefoot, grubby guys lay sprawled on the porch and in the yard. Actually, there were exhausted climber, just down off the nountains and had removed their hiking boots to ease their feet. Jenny lake is a major trailhead. Climbing is taken seriously. Anyone caught climbing up on the mountainsides without a permit is fined. One summer three young men died when they were playing around on a glacier without using ice axes and slid off.

     We spent a week there with Bill’s brother, sister-in-law and some of their familly. Our campsite was the envy of other campers as we had a beach umbrella over our table and Rick’s portable bar from which he dispensed martinis at cocktail hour and hot buttered rum around the campfire.

     I shall not again hike up a mountain path, but a part of me will always abide in the Teton Mountains. Still young and vigorous in my mind, I stride with long steps up the path that runs through Cascade Canyon next to clear, rushing , boulder-strewn Cascade Creek that bisects an alpine meadow carpeted with wild columbine, Indian paint-brush, larkspur, wild roses, genitians, lupines and many other varieties  of wildflowers. The pure air is scented with pines and flowers. I hear the “meep” of a pica, a little rabbit-like, tailless animal with small ears as I rest on a boulder, watching a browsing moose. Far below lies azure, jewel-like Jenny Lake.

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     Another time, it is early evenning. Seven-year-old Vicki, Bill and I sit on a log at our cmapsite on a sandy beach at Leigh Lake to which we have backpacked. The twilight hush is broken only by the sleepy peeping of a covey of little Merganser ducks swimming to their night-time roost. slowly a full moon rises, and snow-capped, majestic Mt. Moran across the lake is vividly reflected by moonshine onto the tranquil waters.

     The deep peace of this exquisite moment seeps into my very soul and soothes me. It takes over my consciousness so that I am transported out of myself to a realm of total bliss and serentiy. I can still enter this mystical place by conjuring up in my mind’s eye and bringing to present time this vision of utmost beauty that I beheld nearly fourty years ago…

     Jean called: “These mountains are so beautiful that you get choked up.” I knew what she meant. Great beauty – be it nature, music, art or literature – has a transforming power that sweeps away one’s cares and nourshes one’s inner self. I need to seek out more othen the beauty in my life.

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ALONE  IN  THE  WOODS

Sometimes I sit in my log cabin as in a cocoon, sheltered by swaying spruces from outside the world… Then the chirp of a swallow winging over the lake reminds me that there’s always a new beginning.

Ann LaBastille – Woodswoman

People get stuck one plateau of living. It’s easier to stay in our familiar ruts. The thought of changing my comfortable existence and striking out into unknown territory frightens me. Also, most of us are bound by the bonds of important relationships.

     If you want to enjoy a real-life adventure from your armchair, do read Woodswoman by Ann LaBastille PhD. I feel a kinship with LaBas-tille because she loved nature and was a fellow admirer of Thoreau’s Walden. As old Granny said, reading makes our worlds match up.

     She abandoned her big-city upbringing to become an ecologist. One summer she worked at a lodge in the Adirondacks wehre she fell in love with the owner and the great North Woods. Then her husband found someone else and told her that she had to leave within two months. What to do?

     Often our lives are like a boar without a rudder, carried hither and thither by the eddies and currents of life. Timidly we can’t make up our minds to act until it’s too late to achieve our innermost desires.

     Bruised in spirit and homeless, she used her freedom to set another course on her own terms in order to heal her spiritual melancholy and homelessness. Having no other choice about the overturning of her life, LaBastille set out to achieveher dream of living all alone in the forest primeval.

     Her tale briefly stirs up a longing within me to set forth on an adventure as she did, but common sense quickly returns, Her account is a fascinating read for the likes of people like me who love nature but don’t want to suffer the discomforts of living at its mercy.

     Iv’e never wielded an ax, cut tress with a chain saw, used a portable generator, fired a gun, tied expert knots in ropes, used a compass with any certainty, used show shoes, or skied. The one time I tried to paddle a canoe, I ran it into the bank. Also, the simple, back-to-nature life turned out to be for more complicated, uncomfortable and dangerous than even she had anticipated.

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     LaBastille bought 22 acres of land forested with virgin pines, spruces, firs, maples, burches and beeches bordering a lake in one of the most primitive areas of the Adirondack Mountains. Many of the trees were three hundred years old. A tree to me is more than an inanimate object – it is a living presence. I understandi what she means when she writes, “Clearly the land belonged for more to the trees than to any human being.”

     She got her wish to get away from people! The closest settlement was five miles away, and it was twenty-five miles to the nearest town. The dirt road eneded a mile and a half up the lake, There was no path around the lake, electricity or telephone service. There were only a few cottages around the lake, called “camps” in the Aditondacks. Their resisdents all left during the winder when she would be snowed in with only her dog for companionship.

     The main living space of LaBastille’s cabin with only 12 by 12 feet. A tiny kitchen was on the enclosed porch. She built a sleeping loft with a steep ladder going up to it. Imagine having to cram all the impedimenta of our affluent lifestyles into such a tiny space!

     Her refrigerator and little stove worked on propane gas. Heat was an urgent priority as temperatures drop to near freezing even in July and are often several degrees below zero for most of the winter. Friends helped her manhandle a three-hundred-pount, cast iron Franklin stove onto a boat, cross the lake and drag it up the hill.

     LaBastille used a chain saw to cut down dead trees and saw them into logs to last through the winter. This was a matter of life and death as she would freeze to death without heat. She had to tote buckets of water from the lake, Having a supply of water in the cabin at all times was crucial in case of fire. If her isolated cabin burned down during the harsh winter, she would freeze to death because no help was avaiable.

     Think of trudging two hundred feet through ice and snow to visit the outhouse! My childhood home had an outhouse, and I have abso-lutly no inclination to live like that again. It isn’t fun to have to put on a coat and boots to use the restroom. Afraid that her bottom would freeze to the “throne” during the bitterly cold winter, she started keeping the toilet seat inside to keep it warm. Finally she installed a chemical toilet in the kitchen.

     She wrote that while she was building her tiny cabin time slipped backward. She felt like a stubborn pioneer woman swinging her axe.

I was saddened to hear of her death in July 2011.

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THE  WATCHER

In Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” Frodo touched a tree and felt it as a living being. To me trees are almost as much a sentient presence as an animal. I understand people who chain themselves to redwoods, attempting to save them. When I was a girl many people mourned the deaths of Knightstown’s huge elm trees, including one that stood the in schoolyard.

     What some of us prize so highly, others destroy frivolously. They cut down thousand-year-old redwoods for fences and decks. An acquaintance who once owned a lumber company in northern California used to assert that we had trees to spare. Now she sings a different tune. She went back a few years ago, and a friend flew her along the coast. “There was one row of redwoods left; behind them all of the others were gone.” 

     After a wind storm I was stricken when I drove from out Warren Park home along Pleasant Run from the southeast corner of the golf course into Irvington. It was like driving a slalom, turning back and forth because of huge limbs down in the street. Ugly gashes marred the old trees. An Irvington acquaintance reported that it was difficult to get from his Irvington home to the Benton House because there were at least thirty trees down in his neighborhood. “Oh dear,” I said. “Would you check the Kile Oak on your way home?”

     I worry about this venerable burr oak that’s estimated to be between three and four hundred years old. Think of it: It was here when Indians were present and is the oak tree’s equivalent of a giant redwood. Still growing, it’s 92 feet high and has a spread of 125 feet. Its diameter is nearly six feet, and it’s eighteen feet around!

     It is named for the Kiles who built a house near it in 1901. Their daughter, Mae, lived there for 71 years. When she had to leave her only concern was that the oak be preserved. The property was bought with the help of the Lilly Co., the Irvington Historic Society and the Irvington Union of Clubs and is owned by the Irvington Historic Landmarks Foundation that also owns the Benton House. The house was torn down because it was dilapidated.

     I called a neighbor who knew Miss Kile. “She was a very intelligent, ladylike person and was J.K. Lilly’s secretary. She adored that tree and drove tiles down next to its roots and carried buckets of water from her house to pour down them to water the tree.”  Imagine trying to water such a huge tree!

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     The oak is much more thanjust an inanimate collecton of trunk, branches, roots, and leaves. There’s a cadre of people who care intensely about it. The Irvington Garden Club donates money; master gardener Ed Myers works unstintingly on the grounds; and the Irvington Historic Landmarks Fondation provides funds.

     The neighbor whom I interviewed said, “I wish I could do more to help.” “You watch over the tree, and it needs watchers,” I responded. She replied, “You know, I dometimes believe that it’s the tree who watches over me.”

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