Thursday, May 27, 2010

Los Alamos, New Mexico

The poet William Wordsworth once described poetry as "experience recollected in tanquility." Perhaps that's why it's been difficult to write about the last two months. My sister Sibyl has nudged me to keep writing on the "paradise" blog, even though I'm away from Puerto Vallarta now and life is unsettled.

I guess what makes it meaningful is not the slide show, not the spin on quirky dramas in exotic locales, but the insights gained as life unscrolls. The backdrop is really immaterial. Perhaps my weakness as a writer and purveyor of Truth As I See It, has been a reluctance to report on the mistakes, character flaws and questionable choices that have made my life harder at times than it needed to be. The declaration, "I once was lost, but now am found," may be true in so far as I have been redeemed by a loving Creator, but I still wrestle with blind spots, behaviors and assumptions that I have yet to submit for forensic moral self-scrutiny. And I don't always have the courage to ask people I may have hurt, irritated or alienated along the way, exactly what I did to hurt, irritate and alienate them. The fear of being annihilated by someone's judgment, criticism, disapproval -- what have you -- sometimes renders me sightless and mewing in darkened rooms, paralyzed by confusion and self-loathing, begging God for release.

But thank God, that's not all the time. And I write about this journey I'm on so both you and I will know we're not alone. That's really all it comes down to. What I set down in this "experience recollected in tranquility," is stuff that most of us know already. I just have a knack for putting it into words.

The best I can offer anyone is my transparency mingled with a desire to entertain, empathize and maybe offer a tincture of hope. We are all damaged and broken, stumbling in the dark, trying to make healthy choices, but with skillsets limited by faulty perceptions, skewed by pain. The Truth of Grace poured into us has a way of leaking out. Thank God, He/She never turns off the spigot. That's what keeps me going, keeps me wanting to write these words, whether or not they are read or appreciated by anyone out there in cyberspace.


After a week taking care of personal business in Colorado Springs, I loaded up the Beast for another 12-hr marathon drive to my mom's home in Fulton, MO. For two days, I pushed through on I-70, a trip I've made almost annually for the past 25 years. I've learned to settle into a zenlike state for what used to be an interminable mind and butt-numbing trek across the prairie. I know every antique mall, roadside attraction and excuse-to-stop along the way. There's an Arby's break in Limon, Colo, followed by the merge onto I-70, then every 100 miles or so, a town...Oakley, Hays (home of the 5,000 lb. prairie dog), Colby, Russell (Bob Dole's hometown), Junction City, Salina, Abilene, Lawrence, Topeka. I've spent time in all those places. While I was married to Stephen and temporarily sidetracked from this roadtrip, someone put in a windfarm in the flint hills between Junction City and Russell. I always pull off the highway to park and marvel at the giant gleaming windmills slicing the sky. On this trip, I encountered several prairie fires creeping over the ocean of drought-yellowed grass. In places, the charred fields stretched for miles in every direction.

I used to dread the drive across Kansas, but over the years I've grown to appreciate the stark beauty of the plains. I try to imagine what it must have been like when cowboys and Indians populated the land. Some of these sleepy towns, like Abilene, for example, were once rowdy with outlaws and houses of ill repute. I guess all that drive time puts my mind into "Lonesome Dove" mode.

There's a calming feng shui quality to the topography of Kansas, interrupted only by occasional grain silos and grazing cattle. Have you ever noticed that cattle all face the same direction as they graze? Why is that?

On day two of the drive home, I stopped in Concordia, MO, for some barbecue, which I ate while parked with Bo in the town cemetary, overlooking a regiment of farm tilling equipment. A white cadillac carrying a couple of suspicious locals crept around the cemetary watching me from a distance. I played a passive-agressive game of cat and mouse with them for a few minutes, but finally had enough and got back on the road.


I spent a month with Mom in Fulton, crowded into her tiny Victorian hoarder's house with its windows sealed shut and every available inch of space crammed with boxes of fabric scraps and news clippings, gilded mirrors, candlesticks wreathed in artificial flowers and 10-year-old canned goods stacked to the ceiling in the tiny kitchen. At 91, she's still a steel magnolia. Carmen balances on the Mexican cane my sister gave her and subsists on a diet of game shows (Price is Right, Deal or No Deal, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy) and crossword puzzles she works in the bathroom. On Monday, she plays cards at the Senior Center and attends Red Hat Society functions. During my stay, I hunkered down and tried to stay out of her way, escaping to local antique malls or walking on the Stinson trail with Bo. I was heartbroken to see that Westminster College had cut down century-old oak trees on the old homestead where the artist David Mode Paine once lived; they were making way for an apt. bulding. I ignored a no-trespassing sign to examine one dismembered oak tree four feet in diameter. Tried to count the rings and lost count at 130.

Like wistful Meryl Streep reminiscing about her farm in Kenya in "Out of Africa," I find myself musing..."I once lived in a hacienda in Puerto Vallarta."

Back to Colorado

I spent about a month with Mom, eating compulsively, watching serial episodes of "Madmen" on my computer, and becoming addicted to mocha frappes from McDonald's. To use the internet, I retreated to the Fulton Public Library or the McDonald's parking lot.

It was rainy in the midwest for much of the time I was home, and by the time I crossed the Kansas flinthills heading west, they'd turned a lush neon green. I realized the grass fires are just part of the natural cycle of death and life on the prairie.

I made it only as far as Abilene the first day of the return trip. Day 2 turned into a grim push westward as the skies filled with mushy black clouds. For a change of pace, I pulled off I-70 at Oakley and took a two-lane road diagonally across the barren prairie. The "towns" I passed through were only wide places in the road...I must have driven 300 mi. with nary a car in sight. No gas stations. No fast food places. Just miles and miles of Kansas, then miles and miles of Colorado grassland. Near Kit Carson, the temperature dropped, the winds picked up and big drops of rain splashed on the windshield. I arrived in Colorado Springs at dusk in a downpour, exhausted from 700 miles on the road...and with no place to go.

No Room at the Inn

Nothing is so depressing as arriving in a town that used to be your home...and finding no one willing to take you in. No warm hearth full of friends who've been waiting anxiously for your return. Just a McDonald's parking lot on Fillmore St., where you let the dog out to pee in the rain and the gathering gloom, then try to find a motel that will take you both in before it gets dark. After finding that the Spruce Lodge (they have weekly rates) had no vacancy, I drove down to the Econolodge on Nevada St. (the closest motel to a real neighborhood). Sorry. We don't take dogs. At that point, I sat down in the lobby and wept. The woman at the desk was very sweet. She fixed me a cup of tea and called the Motel last choice for a place to stay, but beggars can't be choosers. I made my way to the other side of the interstate and checked in.
The Motel 6 turned out to be a good choice for me and Bo. My little room was clean and bright, and the bathroom had one of those shower pods that remind you of something that could beam you up on "Star Trek." Behind the motel was a big field for Bo to run and poop.

For the next week, I checked mail, conducted bank business, consolidated stuff from two storage units and had a little quality time with my old friend Athena. I also made friends with Lisa, a woman who was working as a maid at the Motel 6. She shared her story with me...and it made me appreciate how fortunate I am, despite my current state of unemployment and uncertainty. 38 years old, attractive and sharp, Lisa had endured the loss of her business in the Springs, foreclosure and eviction from the home she'd lived in for 16 years, an unplanned pregnancy which resulted in giving up the baby for adoption last year, a stalking abusive ex-boyfriend -- who she's been hiding from by staying in a one room apt. off the highway, and a brain aneurism and blood clots in her lungs -- a direct result of beatings from the boyfriend...

I don't know how people end up in such dire circumstances. It can be tempting to blame the victim...but I feel for Lisa. A beautiful, intelligent woman for whom life just ran off the track. I watched her doing what she has to do to survive and take care of her 11 year-old daughter. Trying to stay positive when all around her is the evidence of her bad luck and poor judgment. But all I can think of is...there but for the grace of God go ALL OF US.

I paid Lisa to help me load up my bed and dresser and some other stuff into a U-haul trailer. We talked as we worked, about our lives, the men we'd trusted, the patterns we were trying to change. We finished up late in the day and headed to Chick-fil-A. I bought her dinner and we sat outside in the golden afternoon sunlight. I needed a friend and God sent me one.

The next morning as I checked out from the motel and prepared to leave for Los Alamos, Lisa arrived for work, fighting back tears -- she'd had a rough night with her demons. I offered to pray for her, but she turned me down. I gave her a final hug...then me, Bo and the Beast lumbered onto the highway for the next leg of the trip.

It was nightfall when I chugged up the hill to my friend Sheila's house in Los Alamos a week ago, thankful to finally have a place to land. Have spent the past week unloading and putting things away. I've also decided to sell The Beast before it gives up the ghost. Searched Craig's List and found a 2002 Ford Windstar cargo van for only $2800. Two seats up front and the rest is all business. If I go back to Mexico in the Fall, I'll fill it with just what I can carry and sell off the rest.

The adventure continues.


  1. I had missed reading your blog. It was wonderful to find you here again this afternoon as I came looking. A total stranger to you, I sit in Florida and weep quietly. I am stunned by your courage as a person and your talent as a storyteller. Thank you for being willing to "leak grace." (Insightful you are.) I wish you well, Bird in Paradise. I hold you in my prayers.

  2. Bird, Next time you are in the Springs, please come by. Scoti