You are visitor number: 159

Angles Of Light and Shadow

            What Are You Thinking?

    Angles of light, color, hue and depth. A shadow, thin as spider’s silk, hangs over the orange of mallow petal, barely seen, maybe only perceived, but part of the texture and tapestry before me. Entrancing to distraction.
    While on a second date, desert picnic during a long, languishing Sonoran Spring, my companion, now my sweetheart, asked me, “What are you thinking?”
    I was not thinking, not at all. My eyes were slowly moving over the desert floor, seeking every shadow, curve, stick, flower, leaf and movement. The “Hot Shots” were packing up after extinguishing a wildland blaze, thankfully less than a few acres. This added even more interesting and arresting shades and smells. And feeling. All of those colors, light, shadow and smells effect my feelings, stopping the usual thinking process and I go to a sensory place I have no name for.  Explain all that on a second date. “I am just taking it all in,” was my response. An understatement of huge proportion. I cannot explain this to my self, how would I explain it to someone else? Bob still asks me, “What are you thinking?” Sometimes, I can answer fully because of the trust we have established. But, sometimes, I am caught without words. Like, one time when we were dancing to a band playing outdoors in the evening. The establishment was in a rustic setting, the dance floor was behind the band and away from the people and tables, and over Bob’s shoulder and through the trees I could see the night sky, the pond and the stars. I could hear the night birds and crickets and my eyes started to search the details of the shadows and light. All of that, along with dancing in Bob’s embrace, left me without an answer.

    And then, there is silence. 
    The songs of silence are welcome to my ears, to my soul. One can’t hear the songs for all the noise of the world. But, the songs are all around and tell me the world is Okay.  From the porch I hear the groan and squeak of the soup pot on the stove. The tin roof pops as the sun heats it, and then rattles a shiver as a stray cloud cools it. The breeze drifts orange and purple blooms and makes mallow and lupine nod gracefully to the rhythm of pop, rattle, shiver and squeak. Cassia floats sweet perfume on the wind while butterflies work diligently.
    There is birdsong, too. Laughing, whistling, cat calling, cheering, playful and alive. The local Harris Hawk family is hunting. Today there are five of them and their conversation is like encrypted surround sound. 
    I know places where the quiet is so thick, the footfalls of ants seem too loud. Not here, not today. There is silence enough for today. A restful, not alone silence. A peaceful, beauty filled silence after months of busy and hurry. 
    I am ever thankful to live in this place. From my back porch I can see Pima Butte, The Sierra Estrella Wilderness, South Mountain, Four Peaks, The Superstitions and McDowells. I can see Signal Peak and the Sawtooths, Newman, Picacho, The Catalinas and Lemmon. 

    The wind speaks to me when the world is quiet. Or, rather, when I am quiet I hear the wind speaking.
     I recall the wind in the treehouse in Arkansas. I would climb out and up onto the tin roof  to hear the wind in the forest that covered the surrounding hills. I remember the screaming wind of a California grass fire as I worked my way to safety with a bladder pack and shovel. The peaceful hush of the wind as I repaired targets on the archery range. The roar of the set-your-watch-by-it 3pm dust devil on the gun range. 
    And now, I’ve had to fetch a coffee and a blanket, in spite of my fleece pants, thermal shirt and sweater, because I don’t want to go inside and miss any little thing out here on the porch, in the silence and the wind.

You are visitor number: 158

The Voice In The Desert

An Easter Poem

I've been searching through the desert, like there is something I must find.
I know You are out there, I hear You calling all the time.

Your voice as sweet as fillaree, dancing in the desert wind.
Drifting from each rocky slope, sandy wash and bend.

I chose to ride a crooked trail of which You know the scope.
Shameless acts, wasted time, shattered dreams and hopes.

Yet still Your voice is filled with peace, alluring, ever there
Singing to this broken heart a vow of love and care.

I met You once when I was young, then just turned and rode away
To live a life I thought was grand, and promptly went astray

Now, my back trail, it still beckons me and likely always will
But I think if I keep riding on,  I'll find you round that next hill

As I dismount to watch the sunset, all the desert has gone still
Not a whisper of the wind, not a click or peep or trill

Then the sun explodes atop the mesa and I dare not even breathe
Light sweeps across the desert floor and pools around  my feet.

Saguaros stand like soldiers of God, halos of light through their spines
Swashbucklers of Glory, steadfast, protecting, arms out stretched in mime

Each rock and leaf are set ablaze, the silence pounds in my ears
My soul is drenched in the beauty and wonder that thrives in this world so severe

With the hilltops afire, the canyons in shadow, the day snaps off like a lamp
My blood still rushing, mind overrun, I mount and head back to camp

I hear your voice, I feel you out there, but one thing remains a fact
I've ridden for years cutting for sign of those promises made way back     

That gun toting preacher, he told me himself (and preachers never lie),
You'd never leave me, and You'd always love me, and be there to help me get by.

I've had some bad rides, a scrape or two, times with my back to the wall
Yeah, I survived, but couldn't help but ask, just where were you through it all

Reflecting on the wrecks I've been in, and tragedies life has brought
Decisions I made, trails I chose, the glory in life I sought

I'd laid down a pattern of endless mistakes that only compounded my plight
"Poor pitiful me, all the world against me," yet still maintaining, "I'm right"
       
But, you never left me, you never forsook me. You rode out front the whole time.
That's why I heard Your whispering voice, and now it's ringing like a chime

You came down here and lived among us so we could see that You're for real
And now it's all about learning Your lead, and never about how I feel 

All these years I been fighting my own head and doing things my own way
It's a shame I was too dang stubborn to see how things should really play

Now, it's tough to admit, but I just realized I never did ride for Your brand
And in spite of it all, I'm alive and well, 'cause you let me ride in the palm of Your Hand.

 

(C) 2003 Nancy Elliott and Sonoran Desert Sage Pub ASCAP 

You are visitor number: 158

La Jinete  

   I wrote "La Jinete" about 2005 in an attempt to describe my kindred-ship to this Sonoran Desert and her inhabitants. Far more than merely a place to build a house with a view, the desert is a living thing who moves into your dwelling and your soul, without permission. One can not live here and be oblivious to her omnipresence. She demands attention and, if not given, she will spit you out. Or worse. 

   La Jinete is an unfinished work I pick away at as the years pass. There is so much to impart, it may never be all said. 

 

La Jinete

I've been out here since I can remember, since time began it seems 

It's the place where my soul finds comfort, here where only God can intervene 

Life in the desert trims up your soul, for she's exacting, precise and honest 

Lie to her or your own heart, she'll  leave you dead. That's a promise. 

Don't recall when I came here, for I'm a part of this desert landscape 

She's blended me in with the quartz and the sand, for me there is no escape 

As wild as the wind in the monsoon, soft as the coos of a  babe 

Her breath is my life and my solace, her songbirds my hearts serenade 

She keeps me here enchanted with the gifts she leaves at my door 

She showed me my place in a story, a magical piece of lore 

Of spirits unfettered, unconquered, of fierce, unshakeable hearts 

Courage, mettle and nerve, and a souls' unbreachable ramparts    

I'll tell you that story if you'll hear it. It will take a measure of time  

And, you have to hold on tight, for the ride's is over ground that's unkind 

But, perhaps you'll understand then, why this place holds my soul and my heart 

Just why I stay out here in the desert, in my story, to you I'll  impart  

 

Pale blue mists weave and prowl through the pleats of the mesa's skirt 

No animals stir, no morning birds sing in my disturbingly silent desert 

Then, gently at first, moving up thru the earth... a barely perceptible tremble 

Now, stronger, then louder, it soon overwhelms with a pounding, ear filling rumble 

My curious eyes scan the horizon for the source of this frightful rampage  

Then, they're on me, flinging hot breath and foam as they burst thru the silver sage 

They snort and squeal at the sudden stop, bumping, rearing, teeth bared 

But, they dare not run past their mistress, who's astride the blood bay mare 

The wind lifts her hair as she smiles,  and I am breathless to realize 

How can it be?  She is I,  I am her!  Those lucid green orbs are mine eyes! 

She looks in my face as her horse dances there, her face so calm and serene 

And she peers in my soul with a knowing so old, discerning, carving and keen 

Then, a leather gloved hand sweeps from her cloak to the obedient herd in her wake 

She nods at me and signals a mare who moves forward for me to take, 

I rise and drift through the glorious herd of horses this bold woman leads 

She watches me, knowing my heart,  that her very command I will heed. 

I swing aboard a freckled grey back and grasp a handful of mane, 

We move out on the breeze of a winters dawn ore a rugged and ancient terrain 

My heart is bursting with wonder, like a child I'm carefree and wide eyed    

My soul is awakened,  my spirit alive as we gallop along side by side  

Flying thru sage and cactus, bearing south we gather more speed 

Then turn east to the Chiricahuas, a most humbling land indeed 

 

(C) Nancy Elliott Music and Sonoran Desert Sage Pub 2005

All rights reserved, no use or copies of any kind without permission. 

 

Being Fully Present Matters 

            My time on earth is precious to me - as is yours - and it becomes more precious with each passing day. Whilst I am still here, there is no place I would rather be than with others who are like minded in this respect; those who choose to be more than merely physically present, and who make the decision to be spiritually, emotionally and mentally present in life whether alone or with others.  
    I will never accept that not giving another human one’s complete attention is merely “the times” and “a new way of communicating and sharing,” and that I need to get with those times. From what I see, “the times” and “a new way of communicating sharing” leave not only me feeling disrespected, set aside, alone and left out, but also many other folks. The younger folks are feeling this, even if they cannot name it. That feeling of aloneness, separateness, and being disrespected creates hard edges on people, especially young people. They get tough, indifferent to others (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em) and angry at a world of people who are not treating them right. Today’s 20 and under group was raised in these disrespectful, spiritually barren times, sometimes by emotionally and mentally disengaged parents - often I have seen a child who can not yet walk given an electronic device to entertain itself with. The 20 and unders may not even know what real respect is, or understand the need for face to face, eye to eye conversation and so, they suffer from the lack of what they cannot name or define. They suffer from malnutrition of the soul brought on by human connection deficiency.  It has a real name: Failure To Thrive. 
            And, it is not only the younger generation who suffer. Adult onset failure to thrive is just as real and perhaps more deadly. Speaking from personal experience, when conversation is instantly interrupted by the ding, and people who I am conversing with choose to immediately answer a text message or check how many likes they have acquired on social media, I feel as though my very presence is of such low value that I can be put “on hold” and I fight an overwhelming urge to leave the room.  I say with certainty that an “emergency” text is extremely rare. Is it more disrespectful to delay answering a text - or looking to see who it is - than to disengage with a person who is present in order to respond to someone who is not present, effectively giving the non present person and what they have to “say” more value?  Once, while out for dinner with friends and having what we thought was great conversation, one person backed their chair away from the table and began to engage with their phone. They purposefully and effectively chose to leave the group, but felt as though they still had the right to remark on half heard discussion. That behavior is rude and disrespectful and hurtful.  
    There are so many necessary factors in life which keep us from spending time with our friends and loved ones. Don’t let factors you can control keep you from being fully engaged when in their presence. Time flys so fast, is gone forever and cannot be recovered. I wonder, if after the loss of a loved one or a friendship, how many people regret not paying attention, regret not being fully present, regret being on social media in the presence of or while on the phone with others and not really hearing or properly responding to the last words spoken to them. If the "conversation" took place in person, is there regret for not looking into the eyes, not seeing the facial expressions of the person speaking to them?  Do they wonder what they missed? Do they wonder if the other person noticed their distraction, their obvious preference and deliberate choice, to be mentally elsewhere rather than present? I will answer that, yes, they noticed.  
      I hope that you always choose to be fully present, with every fiber of your being on task. Each moment you choose not to be fully present is a waste of precious time - mine and yours. I promise to make every endeavor to never waste your time.

The Time I Sprung Dad Out Of Jail 

          

     I sprung my Dad from jail.

     That’s what he said, anyway. What really happened was he was unjustly incarcerated in a nursing home where, for all intents and purposes, he was tied to his bed twenty four hours a day except for a wheelchair ride to therapy and a shower. 

 
    He was there for more than a week before I knew about it. Parents develop a habit of not telling their children everything and, when they do tell, it is not always during the course of the event in which they sure could have used a helping hand. I catch myself committing the same offense and know first hand the not telling is because I do not want to intrude on the lives of my children. I do not want to interfere with schedules and jobs, not wanting to become a burden or worry as I get older.  


    By the time I could arrange care for horses and a dog, it was few days before I boarded a plane for Ohio. My always indispensable childhood and now, adulthood, friend, Carla, picked me up that cold and snowy November evening at Columbus Airport and drove me to Beavercreek, where she and I grew up together.  I am sure no one in the nursing home had ever before witnessed the scene we created simply by showing up as ourselves. I am also sure we are now the stuff of much embellished legend, a story told in amaze around nursing home water coolers, or dining rooms, or where ever it is staff and patients share stories about the crazies they encounter daily.  

    Carla, who does not acknowledged the existence of the word “blend” except in relation to her paintings, is blessed with glorious crown of very long, very curly, very red hair always worn loose and flowing. She dresses in brightly colored caftans, throwing on a monk’s hood cape to go out in the cold. Tonight was no exception, with the addition of fur lined moccasin boots and a long, heavy wool scarf wound around her neck.  Carla, like me, has always “walked with a purpose” as Mom used to say. No dilly-dallying, forward movement with intent, like a freight train, so get out of the way.  
   Having flown in from Arizona where I have lived for over twenty five years, and knowing I would be in cold, wet weather, I was wearing hard denim jeans, low heeled Western boots, a grey woolen frock coat and my custom, Bronco Sue felt hat.  
    When we arrived at the nursing home a heavy snow was being whipped a bitter cold wind. The flakes did not melt when they landed on us, instead they accumulated on our shoulders and hats very quickly as walked the fifty yards or so to the main entrance. We burst though the doors carrying snow and cold air swirling in our wake. The wall ahead of us bore the room indicators which we instantly deciphered and hung an immediate left, continuing shoulder to shoulder at that freight train pace. Wide eyed nurses and care givers fell away out of our path, patients in wheel chairs and walkers watched us pass them by, their eyes lit up in surprise. No one stopped us or questioned us. No one followed us to see where we were going. 
    When we blew into Dad’s room and he was lying flat on his back in bed, Mom at his side in a plain, office type chair. He saw us come in, his eyes lighting up with surprise and happiness. I went right to him and bending over his bed, hugged him. When I pulled back he had tears on his cheeks. He still had a grip on both of my arms so I could not stand up all the way. 
     I asked him, “Daddy, are you afraid to be here?” 


     “Yes,” he spoke quietly. “ I am afraid.” 


    “Why, Daddy?” 


    He looked at me for a long moment, choosing his words carefully just like he always did. Finally, “They aren’t mean here, they are just stupid. They are going to hurt someone because they don’t know what they are doing.” 


    “Daddy,” I said. “Mom and I are both here with you now and we will stay until bedtime. The first sunny day, we are taking you home.” 


    He nodded and smiled a little.  
    I turned to hug and kiss Mom who was holding hands with Carla. Carla stayed a few minutes to visit then took her leave to work her way home through the storm, promising to stop by the house when Dad got home. She would love to come and help decorate the Christmas Tree. 


    Dad’s room was small, though there were two beds, the other one empty. I sat on the edge of Dad’s bed and we talked for a long time.  About the snowy weather, about Arizona. About the horses and Cowboy, my Border Collie. About the border issues which always make national news and, even though we talked regularly on the phone, they wanted to hear the latest. Dad told me I should run for office to help straighten that mess out. I said I would never get voted in, that no one really wants to address the border issues and they darn sure don’t want to hear the truth about it, makes for boring evening news. He laughed.  


    “So, just how did you get your self in lockup anyway, Daddy?”  Mom had given me the details on the phone but I wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth.     

    Dad said he had been working in the yard, shoveling five ton of pea gravel around the flower beds surrounding the house. As he quit for the day he fell on the porch at the front door hitting his head on the concrete.  He made it in the house and, insisting he was fine, ate dinner and went to bed.  Later, Mom found him with a high fever and called an ambulance. He spent a few days in hospital and then was sent to the care home to rehabilitate. He didn’t like being there one bit at all. He said the first few days he was there he didn’t have a room. He was in a big room like an emergency room with just curtains separating six beds. Patients were wheeled in and out at all hours of the day and night. One night, he was sure the other beds in the room were being used by the staff to have sex, he hoped with each other and not the elderly patients. Wow! It was unlike my father to say any such thing and, considering his fearful state, and that I never knew him to over react, I believed him.  


    “Did you say anything about it, Dad?” 


    “What’s to say?” he shrugged. “Who would believe a feverish old man without his hearing aids?”  


     When they finally gave him a room he was kept flat on his back. Under him was a pad device to set off all the alarms in the building if he so much as tried to turn over. If he shifted his weight the alarms would go off. He could not sit up. They had him listed as “Fall Risk.” This was nothing new. Dad had been a fall risk most of his life. Some reason unknown caused him to have fainting episodes, lightheadedness. He had tried to enlist and was turned down because of it. Dad had learned to live with it. In all my years I saw him faint only one time. So, I don’t think it was something which happened regularly, just enough to be a concern for the Military.  

    Dad was ready to go home and so was Mom. But, because he had been, and maybe was still sick, and the weather was bitter cold and wet, I could not bring myself to put him in the car that night. Mom and I stayed until after the evening orderly had visited the room, checked Dad’s ostomy bag and given him his night dose of antibiotics. Mom waited in the foyer while I fetched her Lincoln, now covered with snow, and drove it to the door to help her in. She wanted me to drive us home. We pulled in the garage and went in through the pantry. That was the way we kids always ran in and out of the house and it was a warm, welcoming embrace of memories every time I went home as an adult.  
    Mom had gathered Dad’s dirty clothes and brought them home with her to wash and take back in the morning. “Momma, why don’t you go upstairs and get changed, I will start the wash and make us some tea and sandwiches.” 


    “Thank you, sweetie.” she headed up the stairs. I already had a sneaking suspicion about what had been going on. 

 
    When Mom came back down we sat at the kitchen table and ate while she told me again her side of the story about how Dad got sick and ended up in the Hospital. It was the same, pretty close to Dad’s version. She told me she was also very worried about the quality of care he was getting, that no one in the building knew how to change Dad’s ostomy bag and she had to show the care givers how it was done. Several times she had to show them and that was very embarrassing to Daddy.  That is when she started crying and we hugged for a while.

  
      “Mom, are you staying at the care center this late every night?” 


    “Yes, because Daddy is afraid to be there. I usually stay later, sometimes until 11:00 or midnight.”  


    “Do they offer you a bed or feed you?” 


    “Sometimes they offer a foldout bed, and Daddy shares his plate with me.” 


    I was pretty perturbed at that, but tried not to let it show. But, Mom’s know, they know.  “So, then you come home, do his wash, go to bed and get back to the care home by what time?” 


    “Daddy wants me there as early as I can get there. Usually by 7 am.” 


    She had been holding to this routine for at almost two weeks,  probably longer considering the hospital stay. This was going to have to change or Mom was going to be the next one to get sick. I told her the flight and all had worn me out and I would like to go to bed and she asked me to sleep with her. We got tucked in the big master bed, both of us reading and holding hands until Mom dropped off. I turned out the lights.  


    In the morning I called the care center and asked what time Dad went to therapy. They told me at 9a.m. andI asked them to let him know Mom and I would not be there to see him until after his therapy, then reminded Mom that Dad would be busy until after 9:30 so she and I could have a nice, hot sit down breakfast and wait to see if the skies cleared enough so we could bring him home. I think it was the first real breakfast she had eaten in a long time. 


    Dad was already back in his room when we arrived at the care center. He was worried about us since my message had not been delivered. But, when Mom excused her self to “walk down the hallway” I told him my fears about Mom’s late hours and not eating right. “Did you know she was doing that, Daddy?” He did not realize what she was doing, and he nodded at me. I had done the right thing in his eyes.  
    We spent the morning in his room, then I got him to venture to the community room. When he got out of bed and the alarms went off, it was the first time I got noticed. I told the blustery attendant to get rid of that thing or he was going to hear it go off real regular. Off to a great start.  
    In the community room we met some other inmates. There was a woman who poked her head in the door every morning, Dad said. She was always cheery and had a good word for him and Mom. There were others who were sitting around in their wheelchairs watching the T.V. or playing a game, working a puzzle. I asked Daddy why he didn’t come down here every day? Just look at the list of activities they have planned. He shot me the look.  Later, when we were out of earshot of the others, he told me it was a nice enough room, but the hallway was depressing and sad with folks parked all alone in their chairs with nothing to say and blank looks on their faces. Some of them never getting out of bed, always sleeping. He was afraid of dying in that place.  
    One of my sisters and her husband came for a while, but he was fidgety and they didn’t stay long. I ran to Panera Bread Company and brought back hot soup, sandwiches and desserts. Dad ate like he was starving, cleaned his plate. Mom had asked me to bring my guitar that day so I played for them, drawing a little crowd  at the door. Mom pointed out a room across the way where a very elderly woman was bedridden and asked if I would go play for her. Of course. The attendant was in there feeding her. I don’t know if she heard  me or not, but he was smiling and nodding. The music gets folks talking and both Mom and Dad started with stories. A bit later in the evening we were treated to some Carolors who sang their way down one side of the hall and back up the other. When Mom and I went home that night, Dad was much better about it.   


    The next morning, the sun was bright, sparkling off the snow of the last few days. Big, fluffy clouds in the sky, nothing dark and foreboding. 


     “Momma,” I said as we sat with our coffee. “Let’s take Dad’s coat and some warm clothes, we are going to bring him home today.”  


    Her face lit up and she smiled. “You know, they are not going to let us take him out of there without raising a stink,” she said.  


    “Yep, probably. But, it’ll be okay.” I said, thinking, this is going to be a whole lotta fun! 

    When Mom and I arrived the parking lot had been cleared, the snow now heaped up around the edges and under the trees. The sun was warm and there was no wind to speak of, so it seemed quite spring like by comparison to the previous few days. I let Mom out at the entrance and parked the car while she went on to Dad’s room. We had a game plan of sorts. Mostly it was get in there, pack him up and walk out. We knew it would not be that easy but it was a place to start.  
    As I entered Dad’s room, Mom was cleaning out his dresser and closet, his things neatly folded into his suitcase, his coat draped over the end of the bed.  Dad was not in the room so we assumed he was still in his therapy session. Fine, there was less chance of someone coming in the room if Dad was not in there.

      We had all of his things ready to go when Dad was brought back in. The orderly was going to put Dad in his bed, but Dad immediately caught on to our game and told him “No, Thank you,”  and to basically get lost. The orderly buzzed right back out, to tell on us. Within a minute there was a woman at the door, telling us we could not take Dad home without him being signed out by the doctor. I asked when will the doctor come and she said she would find out. I gave her the name of Dad’s doctor and that we would be taking him there right after we left the building, so we were leaving. She asked to see Mom in the office. Mom said she was not going without me. The woman was not happy about that but she had no choice.

  
    The woman asked Mom why she was taking Dad out before he was released. Mom told her because Dad wanted to go home, that none of us felt like he was getting the care he deserved and that we all felt he would be better off at home. Mom told her about no one knowing how to change Dad’s ostomy bag. I told her about no one looking after Mom and about how Dad was basically a prisoner with no rights, tied to his bed and spoken to like he was a child. They were not able to keep track of his medication, Mom had been doing that.  There can be legal repercussions, the woman told us. Let my Mom sign what she needs to sign so we can go, I told her. I am going back to the room so Dad does not think we forgot him. 
    The house rules said Dad had to go out in a wheelchair, so I brought the car to the door and Mom had him waiting there, ready to go. He was already smiling, and he laughed when I asked him if he wanted to drive. Suitcase in the trunk, Momma and Daddy in the back seat holding hands, we drove away.  
     We arrived a few minutes later at Dad’s doctor and walked in. It was mid day but they took him in and with questions all around he was pronounced healthy enough to go home. His doctor had not heard anything from the care center, he did not know Dad was there, only that he had been released from Miami Valley Hospital over two weeks ago. He took me by the elbow to stop me as Mom and Dad left the room.  


     “How long are you staying?” 

    “A couple of weeks, at least, but as long as they want or need me to stay.” 


     “Good. Your Dad is a stubborn man. You know, I just last year got him talked him out of cleaning out the gutters on the house by himself,” he told me and I laughed.  


    “My brother called and was angry, he said to leave Dad in the care home, that he was exactly where he needed to be.  Dad wants to be at home. I didn’t see any reason for him to stay and be scared and miserable.”

 
    “Your Dad needs to be at home, and he is fine. He is old, nothing more.” 


     “Thank you.” 

    We made one other stop for something Mom needed at the drug store and went home to Big Woods Trail. We pulled in the garage and Dad got out first to open the car door for Mom, then we went in the house through the pantry door.       

      As I carried in the suitcase and Mom took our coats to hang up,  Dad stood in the dining room and stretched his back, then he went to the sliding door and opened the curtains so he could see outside into the back yard. Back in the kitchen, he put on a pot of coffee and headed up the stairs to The Library. Mom right behind him on the stairs as if she could catch him if he fell.  
    It was home made beef-vegetable soup and biscuits for supper that night. As Mom and I stood in the kitchen cutting vegetables and mixing dough I looked at Dad in the family room in his blue recliner. His head was back and he was fast asleep, the local paper in his lap. In my childhood days, his pipe would have been resting in the big glass ashtray on the side table, the smell of borhkum riff in the air.  I touched my elbow to Mom’s side and she looked up.  
              He’s right where he needs to be, Mom.  

© Nancy Elliott Music and Sonoran Desert Sage Publishing 2017 ASCAP

                

Waiting On Sunset 

    West of a two lane just prior to and below the freeway entrance lay a run of old, concrete  acequias. They are dry on this section of land, now decades long fallow. Full of dirt and tumbleweeds, they are just beginning to crumble. The gate is missing from the north to south run; the gate at the elbow for the westerly leg is jammed shut by a couple of feet of dried mud and rocks left there by wind and monsoon rain. A mesquite of some good height has taken up residence in the canal about half way down the section. I am waiting for sunset here. 
    Semis whoosh by above me like a startled covey of quail, their noise fading quickly away as they fly to the west. I don’t wonder where they go, what they are hauling and why. Today, I don’t wonder where the cars are headed, or what the passengers inside are like. I am only waiting for sunset. 
    I love to walk and do so often, daily whenever possible. Taking a walk has been a habit of mine since childhood. To not go walking in the rain, snow or wind, or if the day was too hot never crossed my mine then. In my older years now. I tend to avoid a heavy of breeze, rain and freezing temperatures. But, there are those times when the bad old world needs to go away for a while and, regardless of wind or cold, I take a walk. Often, I find my self waiting for sunset. 
    The only trouble I have with taking a walk, is having to turn around and go back. Years have taught me that making a long circle is the best route to get home without having to retrace my path. Taking care to have the long side of the circle on my right or left, and with good timing, I can walk home waiting for sunset. 
    There is a refresh in the sunset. It is not a good habit to miss very many sunsets. A day is put to bed, tucked in behind the mountains, or trees or the sea with a poem, a lullaby, maybe a recitation of the happenings of note, or thankful whispers that nothing of note happened at all. When I go walking early, I am on the front porch, or at the window, waiting for sunset. 
    It is such a simple thing, a good habit to curate and be faithful to. When I have forgotten in the rush of the day, I am reminded of my earthly purpose while waiting for sunset. 
  

(C) 2022 Sonoran Desert Sage Publishing and Nancy Elliott Music ASCAP

Down A Country Road 

                                            
                                

    I couldn’t sleep last night. It was nearly morning before I finally drifted off. I had performed all the usual bedtime rituals and crawled under the covers with a good book and a cup of tea at about 8:15. Nodded off while reading then, after setting my book on the night table and turning off the light, was wide awake. 
    A drink of water, brew another cup of tea, read another chapter and I was getting sleepy again. That was when I heard the cow bawling. 
    Now, it bothers me, irritates really, when dogs bark relentlessly and for no reason and the owners don’ shush them. Noisy cows, however, tell a story. They have something worthwhile to say. This cow was upset and really bawling and it struck me like the cry of a child to a mother’ heart.  
    Although I no longer own cows, I am familiar after having spent a few years in their company. These days I walk my country neighborhood and I know who owns cows. I know the faces of the local, back acre livestock and they know me fairly well. And, I notice a new face in the crowd as well as missing faces. This particular cow was loud and close, so it might be a new animal for one of my neighbors.  
    Cows are timely, creatures of habit, expecting  their world and their humans to be timely as well. Most will return on their own from pasture to stand quietly and patiently in their own pen while staring a blazing hole through the gate or door from which their supper bearer appears.  Some begin announcing themselves upon arrival, just to give a heads up I suppose. Perhaps this cow’ human was late to evening chores. 
    As I listened to the persistent and frustrated complaining, I began to hear an edge of fear seeping in. When your child cries you know if it is hungry, tired, thirsty, angry or hurt. You have a parental knowing allowing you to pinpoint a problem right way and with great accuracy. With a cow, you can often guess correctly, but you are guessing purely out of familiarity of the habits of the species in general and of one animal in particular. This cow was very loud and demanding attention.  
    About a half dozen of those pretty Red Limousines live down the road a way. They always come to the fence for a “Howdy” and their babies come, too. Maybe one got out and wants back in. From that thought, my mind shifted into full “Mom” mode and I imagined one of the calves had sneaked out and Momma was calling to her baby to come back and right now! From that point, I feared the calf had slipped into the irrigation canal adjacent to the property and Momma was calling for help.  
   No, that place is too far for me to hear that cow. But, with the cold air, sound does carry.  
   Go to sleep Nancy, you are imagining things. I pulled up the covers, closed my eyes and immediately, Piggy came to mind. 

 

    It was 1985 and I was living in Grand Prairie, Texas, bartending at a Country and Western place called Sweetwater Saloon. I was also working at the barn where the local constabulary kept their horses. I would keep the horses legged up, groomed and ready for patrol, search or rescue. It was a nice enough place, butted against thousands of acres of loamy soil to ride. The adjacent ranch belonged to Pokey Roberts, most of which, if not all, is now under Joe Poole Recreation Area. The parcel leased by the horse patrol had a big turnout, two paddocks, a round pen and an old, drafty barn which mostly just provided protection from the sun.  
    About this time, my brother, a few years out of the Marine Corp and settled into the working class, became a bit bored and decided he wanted to get into the cattle business. He also decided that since I was going out to the barn twice a day anyway, it would be no problem for me to feed a few young cows while there. Hmmm, okay. Plans were made to go to the sale barn.  
    I came home with a new cotton braided headstall and matching reins, a colorful bareback pad and slip on style spurs. My brother came home with four bucket calves.  


    Now, raising bucket calves, or bottle calves if you will, is no easy task with a guaranteed outcome. Day old calves separated from momma do not have much of a chance no matter how you shake it. And, this project was started in the winter so, one is going out multiple times a day and night and in all weather. Sometimes, while I was bottle feeding these little guys very early or very late, my children were sleeping in the back of my compact station wagon with the heater running as sleeting rain blew side ways through the slats of the barn. More than one of those calves was warmed up in the back of that old beat up Corolla,  

    We had three survivors. And after we got them sold or in the freezer, we heard from the old timers we were experiencing real success in the bucket calf industry. My brother, so encouraged, set out to start another herd.  
    We didn’t name these calves, though the kids tried to. We called them by their ear tag numbers. Except this one cow my brother took to for some reason. He called her Piggy, and that was the end of the proper relationship with his intended dinner.

    With the extra attention, Piggy grew quickly, was friendly, playful and curious and she loved her people. The other calves were sold but Piggy stayed, becoming a mascot of sorts. She was pen or stall mate to the occasional sick or injured horse and one wild, crazy, grey roan stallion named Chief. He would hardly let anyone else in his stall except Piggy or me, and no one at all unless she was in there with him.  


    A year later my brother decided he was done with the cattle business and going to give Piggy to a 4-H or FFA kid by running an advertisement in the classifieds. He got an interested party right away and, instead of explaining the twists and turns of the country lanes to the pasture, he loaded Piggy in the horse trailer she originally arrived in and took her to his house. He had a few acres all, in lawn with Pecan trees for shade and situated near a pretty lake in a nice subdivision. Perfect for an over night stay for Piggy.  
     
    Next morning my phone rings very early. Because I had worked until two a.m. the night before I answered with a groggy, “Hello.” 


    “Nancy,” says my sister in law. “Piggy is gone. 

    “Oh, you met that 4-H kid really early! Good, I am glad she got a new home.” 
     
    “No. She is just gone. We got up this morning and she had walked the fence down. She’ gone. Piggy is missing!” 
    

     Now, mind you, Piggy had never been anywhere but the sale barn as a wobbly legged newborn, the pasture and barn where she lived for nearly two years, and then to my brother’ yard. “She probably just walked down to the lake,” I said. “Did you look there?” 
         
    “We looked, she isn’t there.” 

    “Well, it is a neighborhood of privacy fences. Unless someone found her and put her in their yard, she is wandering the neighborhood.” 

    “We need you to come help find her.” 

    “Okay. I will come over and we can go to the barn and get Chewy. Horseback, I will be able to see over the fences. If some one put her in their yard for safe keeping, we will find her without having to knock on every door and ask if they have seen our cow roaming around.” 


    The process of getting two small children out of bed, fed and dressed to go took a while and, I was sure that by the time I arrived, Piggy would be tucked safely back in the yard, having returned from her gallivant. But, my sister in law was wringing her hands when she met me at their gate and my brother was equally upset. 

    “Maybe you should not give her away,” I observed. 

    We loaded in the truck and headed to the leased pasture and barn. It was about a half mile drive out of the neighborhood to 14th street where we hung a left. 14th Street quickly becomes more of a two lane thoroughfare passing behind a shopping center on the right and running beside a good ole Texas bayou on the left. A mile or so down on the right is an expansive, very nice golf club and estates type subdivision. Past that and down the hill we took a right turn off 14th Street onto Fish Creek Road, a country lane, which runs parallel to I-20 for a mile or so. Fish Creek Road then makes a hard left, over I-20, via a narrow, country lane bridge, then another hard left onto a tree lined, one lane road doubling back, this time, within spitting distance of I-20. We were a half mile or less from the right turn which would take me to my horse when we spied Piggy tied to a tree. 

    “Holy shit!” My brother slammed on the brakes, nearly throwing me into the dashboard.  

    “Well, I’ll be damned,” I said while pulling my self back up in the seat. Then I started laughing. That kind of knee slapping laugh where you snort and suck wind. “She nearly made it,” I said, wiping tears and trying to catch my breath. “A homing cow is worth something, you know. “ 

     He glared at me, not amused. “We nearly lost her.” 

    “No, you did not. You never lost her. She only went home when you were not looking.” 

 

    The lady who captured Piggy demanded a reward.  

     My brother said, “Kiss my ass.” He's friendly like that.  

    He was going to load Piggy in the trailer and take her back to his house but I said, “Turn her loose and let her finish her journey. You go on ahead and I will follow her on foot. Then we will take her back.” 

    The young person who came to see Piggy later that morning was smitten by her sweet face and demeanor. Love at first sight. I warned this youngster to be sure to build a real good fence.  

 

    The unknown cow was still calling plaintively when I returned from my musings. I put on sweats and sneakers, grabbed a flashlight and climbed into the car to go see what I could find. My horse, Mr. Pepper, is gone three years now, so I would not have the advantage of his Thoroughbred height to see over fences.


    I did not find the cow. She must have been deep in the neighborhood, in a back lot where my flashlight would not penetrate. Those pretty red cows were all tucked in their pens, no strays having fallen into the canal.  
    I went home and as I climbed out of the car and walked back to the porch, that cow gave one last bellow and quit. Just like that.  
    I smiled. It had been a pleasant drive down an old country road. 

 

Nancy Elliott @ Sonoran Desert Sage Publishing  2021

Image of my children at the barn taken by me on a Kodak Instamatic circa 1985

The World In Chewy's Eye

Inspired by JPS Brown's "The World in Poncho's Eye"

The World In Chewy's Eye

    Chewy gave me my first ride on his back one late October morn. He wasn't much to look at, a grade horse whose ears were more than a tad too long, making him look muley, and he had a roman nose and scarred up face which confirmed his rangy look and namesake, “Chewbacca”. His scarred face came from his selectively obstinate personality. He would stand ground tied while being shod, or while waiting for his rider to complete some task not done from the saddle. But, he could not be tied to a post or fence or a bale of hay for even a minute. He would pull back with all the strength of a tractor, pulling the object he was tied to along with him. And, if he could not pull it with him, he would lunge forward, ramming his face into the post or side of a trailer or barn, then pull back again until either the object gave way or he was cut loose. A few people told me they could “fix” Chewy. I told them I had the fix already, just untie him, he will stand. 

 He'd been ridden in the Texas brush for all of his seven years. The day I first met him, and we trotted out to locate and bring up a remuda, he was prime, well muscled, bright eyed and alert, his coat shone in the sun like copper tinged with gold. Chewy was not flashy, but power and try emanated from him and proved out when he went to work. 
    And, we worked, horses mostly, a few cattle. Turn-back was his specialty and he could turn west and leave you in the air still facing east. He left me there more than once, I have to admit, but he always came back to get me, and right now too. He never made me go after him, he never ran out his momentum. He just turned on that proverbial dime and came back, like a partner, like a friend.

    There was an underlying gentleness of spirit, and a playful soul in him. Tag was a favorite game, steal your hat and run like hell was another. You learned quick not to show up with a drink and crushed ice, you wouldn't get anything done till he had that cup in his teeth, tipping it back to drink off the sweet residue. I would often go to the barn late at night after my bartending job, stopping for a burger and fries, then sitting in the paddock with the horses turned out. Soon enough, quiet and slow, as if I would not know he was there, Chewy’s head would come over my shoulder and snitch my French fries one at a time.

    My daughters were very young then, not in school yet. He taught them both to ride, taking them from walk to trot to lope when he felt they were ready and not until. Many a time, as I rode of an evening through the old church yard peach orchard, or across a sunset painted pasture, one child in my arm, one tied on behind me, Chewy rocked my babies to sleep.

    From a long ago horse in my child hood I had learned about the world in a horses' eye. I was fascinated to watch the scene behind me in the large orb that painted everything brown and sepia like an old time photograph. I had shown that world to my children, that world in a horse’s eye. I held them up so they could see, and they would reach a finger out to try and touch that world, to connect, to prove it was there. Maybe that world is where children really come from and wish to stay....maybe it was familiarity as much as fascination that made them reach out. A sense of belonging in that place, the world in a horses eye. But, living life makes you think hard and long and it'll make you weary and worn if you let it. You can forget the magic if you're not careful. And, there was I one summer afternoon.

    The girls and I had all climbed up on Chewy's bare back and ridden out to a tank for a swim and picnic. They were laughing and splashing in the water, I was lying on the grass watching them as Chewy grazed behind me. I turned to see his head only a foot or so away from mine, my eyes directly in line with his one eye when he paused his munching to look at me. In Chewy’s eye, there were clouds sailing by. Seed heads on the grass were bobbing in the breeze, the trees in the distance, the little cut bank on the creek that fed the tank and, right there were my children, dancing in his eye. 
    The world in Chewy's eye was rich and full, dynamic, vital, and encompassing no more than he could process in that span of time. You could not see the past in his eyes, and you could not see the future, just the more-important now.  Chewy's world could be no bigger and no smaller than what was taking place in that moment, no bigger or smaller than the world reflected in his eye. If he saw opportunity to steal my hat, or give one of the kids a gentle shove away from danger, he took it. He did not fret, or plan. He was exuberant in what he had now and he drank it up until he was satisfied. There were no embarrassing moments, no thought of too much or not enough, no fear of the dark or perhaps of tomorrow’s not coming. Fear was experienced only at the precise moment it was necessary. It was not a constant state of being. 
    I saw the phases of the moon in Chewy’s eyes, I saw the stars in the big night sky. On a stormy night, when I went to find him, I saw in his eyes flashes of lightning and the sleet that stung our hides. When I looked in Chewy's eye, I saw me as he saw me, plain and true and honest. What I read in his eyes was the pure reflection of his reading of me. There was no supposing or pretending of thought or intention. He knew what I was thinking and feeling and intending. We humans spend too much time looking at our selves with carefully selected mirrors. And worse, we examine our selves, our very souls and spirits, from the outside, sometimes with a microscope, often with a kaleidoscope. We rarely take measure of the purity of our reflection in our fellow human’s eye. We have forgotten, if we ever were taught, the language of the soul. We have learned to ignore the yearning for knowledge of another’s innermost being. We deny our desperate need for spiritual connection to another human because the work, the time required, remove us from what the world is telling us we should be doing instead. The fear of being hurt, abandoned, rejected keep us from looking deep, living deep, breathing deep into another’s eyes and soul. We have been deceived, lead astray from the purpose of our creation; relationship. We do not know who we are, not for certain. And, we do not know who we are in relationship to other souls. 
    The world in Chewy's eye told me exactly who I was, who I wasn't, and who I needed to be each and every moment. Whether we were heading out to bring in the other horses, or I had my face buried in his winter coat, crying my eyes out over some pitiful, fleeting moment in time; or taking an end of chores jaunt to the drive-through at the Dairy Queen, there were no hard edges, no lies, just the truth in my heart looking back at me through the world in Chewy's eye.

(C) 2008 Nancy Elliott Music & Sonoran Desert Sage Pub. ASCAP


 

 

 

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