Saturday, July 24, 2010

NOT a Post for the Kiddies - One of THOSE Days


Picture it in your mind:

Big important gathering with Secret Squirrel stealth mission group.

I'm to deliver an important document.

I drink the Megaladon sized "brain freeze in a bucket" on the trip there as it was 95 degrees and I'm in a obligatory dark suit.

So I have to pee before the meeting.

The bathroom has one of those soap dispensers by the sink that is "motion activated"

I leave my Secret Squirrel satchel on the edge of the sink after opening the side pocket to check on the document.

NOW. . .

Picture said meeting.

Picture me reaching into the side pocket of the satchel.

I pull out the folded up document and it's coated with several tablespoons of white slimy fluid, about ready to drip on the table. The soap dispenser apparently, set off by the proximity of the bag, had quietly pumped out liquid hand soap INTO the pocket while I took care of business.

I don't HAVE to tell you what that looks like.

Dead silence in the room.

What could I possibly say?

"Damn meetings with Bill Clinton".

I made one guy cry he was laughing so hard.

It's Saturday. Black Dogs and Bacon. It can only get better.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Winged Freedom

"There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar."
---Moby Dick by Herman Melville

I got lost on my first solo cross-country flight, only for about 5 minutes but it was still not a good feeling. I knew the general area I was in, and the terrain, having grown up in the state, but somehow I had flown right over the airport at which I was expected to land, looking down and seeing a lake that wasn't on my map. Following my instructors teachings, I had the good sense to check my position every 10 - 15 minutes, so by backtracking I was soon back on course, but not before witnessing a flock of geese flying right along side of me, honking almost as if asking me to join them. I would have missed that had I been on course.

Sometimes you can find yourself by getting lost, by looking out and down on the world and reinterpreting it as a consequence. Rather than being shaken by my error, I simply laughed in surprising coincidence, as a goose dived from the sky in salutation.

There is a feeling of god-like power in that, viewing your domain beneath, a feeling that is almost empowering in its perspective? Do all the birds of the sky feel that power? That freedom, not just the mighty hawk, but the fledgling bird testing his wings for the first time, hungry mouth tasting the autonomy of the sky.

Birds fill my horizon and surround my home. There's a large wilderness preserve kind of park backing up to where I live, the hills sloping up to trees through which flows a large stream.

Most of the birds I can recognize, sparrows, my favorite the Cardinal and the occasional dove. Birds vary in more ways than species and color. Study them long enough, and you'll see the different ways in which they eat, and what they won't eat. Look where they sleep, is it high up in a tree?, or snuggled down in low covering, with the small tender plants pulled in around them like a blanket. You can study them by when they eat the most, a hearty breakfast or a quick bit of avian fast food and a late day buffet in a field. So many ways, the shape and size of the nest, if there is one, their connection to the nearest body of water, or a broad patch of open sky, if there is one, and to what degree that nearness is necessary for survival. To some the nearness is more important than we realize. Yet in all their differences they all fly on the same winds, that takes them to their desires.

Birds are meant to fly free, not be caged in. My Mom had a few birds over the years, parakeets, but I always felt a twinge of guilt for keeping them locked up, even in a large cage. When you hold a bird in your hand, it closes its eyes in resignation. Trust. Or fear?I had a neighbor out in the country once who kept a quail in a cage, just so he could hear the "bob white" of it's call. I'd watch the bird in there, reminding me of a prisoner in a small cell in tiny jailhouse, tapping out small Morse code signals on the outer bars in a minuscule hope of someone hearing him and seeking his release. But no one came to bail him out and I could only think of him growing tired and expiring there in that tiny cage, his prison cell, his spirit deflating, his soul becoming as worn and fragile as the drab brown uniform he wears. I don't believe the man did it to be cruel, the bird had plenty of good food and fresh water, he simply thought like others, that he could take a wild thing in and tame in, that it would only require the creature to make an adjustment in it's lifestyle, to shift the center of its desire from one thing to another.

One day while the neighbor was away, I went over and quietly opened the cage door. The bird was gone in a flash, with the urgency born of prisoned spring, and the awakening of burgeoning truth, to itself, the sun and the wind, not the man who imprisoned it.

I am a hunter I take life, but I respect life. I think to that day of my first hunt for a large whitetail buck. It's an event that stands out in my mind, like that of my first solo, when I was just 17 years old. Two acts so completely different, yet in my heart, the same, moments of testing myself, and what I could do. Knowing when to go forth, and when to pull back.

I waited there, in that blind, flanked by two experienced hunters who had taken me out. I was hardly more than a girl, yet I already knew the curse of blood, and the wildness of spirit which would only grow stronger as I got older. I tried to act as if it were no big deal, we're going to get a deer, that's it, but it took some effort not to let the trembling show.
When the buck came into view, I hesitated, he was so beautiful, so free, but the hunter lived in me, and this deer would feed us for many months, times were tough in that mill town and many tables were bare. I'm not sure if I closed one eye, it seemeed I closed both, but I draw and fired, one shot through the heart, and watched him bound away, his shadow casting a form on the earth that he had left, but did not know it yet.

But it was not to be a "take your shot, pose with your trophy". No, there was work to be done, and I was not going to be allowed to sit aside and watch the others prep him simply because I was a girl. I was handed the knife, to bleed him and gut him, guided by those much wiser than I.

When I first soloed, I remember sitting there, hand on the throttle, looking at my instructor, standing along the edge of the taxiway, being hesitant to move my hand, and he just gave me a little nod,a sign I was ready. That day, in the forest, it was much the same. The oldest of the group, drew a bloody fingertip across my brow, to brush the hair from my eyes, consecrating that moment in which the hunters skills would be passed on. I drew the knife, and spilled the blood, hot smoking stream in deep grey woods. Yes, blood was spilled, but not with shame, but with pride, for I had been deemed ready to do so with the judgement that such acts require. Gone were the days of pursuing rabbits and squirrels, I had taken my first buck, to be discussed before a winter fire someday.

For hunters gather, as pilots gather. Sometimes in a dark room, long after the day is done, with a cold beer and a roaring fire. Other times in odd moments and at odd times, with no prior planning, simply showing up to just sit and trade stories, waiting for the sun to come up There is a yearning in us that love the wild, be it forest or sky, blooming as you discover that it holds that which is already within you. Like any other passion it is often accompanied by a partiality for that which surrounds its form, which even in its absence still speaks fondly of it, in reverent tones and lively stories.

That day in which I took my first deer stands out, not so much for the action but for what was passed on. What they taught me that day was more than the taking of game. They taught me when to shoot and when not to. What game was worthy, and what should be left alone. When the woods were a safe haven, and with a rumble of thunder, when the woods were a place to leave. Just as I learned to fly in the pitch dark of a hangar as I listened to my instructor as we put our plane to rest, I learned the rules of the hunt, there in the dark, heavy dew of an April morning, while we squatted, knees crying, underneath a turkey roost. I learned without speaking. I learned just by watching. I learned not just when to act, but when when to just walk away and let it go. I learned that with freedom comes responsibility, with wrong decisions, comes death, if not in the flesh, then of the spirit.
Tonight I'm going up for just a short flight, hunting season is a long way off, and the thrill of TV holds no luster for me. The last time I went, I took my friend Miles with me; this time I will go alone. There are a few cumulus to the north but other than some building light turbulence, the short flight should be uneventful. But the clouds continued to build and as I circled a large cornfield, the wind picked up, and off my right I saw a hawk dive down for the safety of the trees. He was ignoring the small birds that were his prey moments ago, as the sky grew menacingly dark and the wind picked up further. The birds had better sense than some, taking no chances when dealing with a dearth of stable air. As the birds of the air knew, death can await in a gust of fate, in the unexpected whimsy of a cold front. In the sky, everything is mortal.

Yet, it is worth the risk, and prices we pay for just a moment to hold that freedom of winged creatures in our hands. The throttle is at full power as the little engine chugs against the decrease in air density in this warm summer day. Still pushing on upwards where the air is clearer, and purer still, out of the haze layer of summer, the smog, the noise; clouds at every turn, their dark reflections playing across my wings like shadow puppets. I have no schedule, no phone, no chatter, no demands other than the demanding gods of pitch, power and airspeed. Like the birds I am free, a carefree vagabond, endowed with the grace of the wing, knowing no bounds in this unrestricted spot of sky far away from the city and any regular air traffic routes.

I pivot and turn to gain a little room. It's hard to resist the urge to continue higher, upwards in search of some absolute perfection, some crystal moment of divine knowledge, far away and remote from human memory, worry and obligations. Up towards the sun, now shining brightly, like a diamond in the sand, pure and priceless, a bright rare gem of light that would provide both wealth and freedom. But like Icarus's flight into the sun, continuing upwards can have dire consequences. The decrease in performance speaks as loudly as any caution light. My airplane is at the limit of what it can do, as am I right now. And so like his father Daedalus did after the Icarus's plummet to earth, I'll leave my feathered friends, and hang up my wings for the day, knowing that soon I too can return.

I check for traffic and slide on back down, performing some dives and rolls on the way, laughing as the earth comes up in greeting. The familiar landscape is in my window and my thoughts are simple. The push of the wind, and the fuel remaining; things done from training and habit, requiring little thought. Leaving room for those obvious thoughts, there suspended above the green of hard edged corn fields, lost in the improbability of being up here at all,. The sky is clouding up and I remain silent, reading the signs of the sky, a poem composed of cursive contrails and feather-like exclamation points of white and amber light. It's time to head home, as the visibility is dropping and the clouds seemed to be starting their own little rumble.

I wonder why the air had gotten so smokey. Someone is burning off some acreage, soon to have homes built on it. As the hawk hunts better fields from their viewpoint, from the smoke, the smaller birds escape the flames, up from the dense, cold remains of grain, into the veined complexity of sky, where space and freedom interface. From aloft I sense rather than see them, and know that soon some of them will find shelter in the trees behind my home, looking simply for their hearts longing, while keeping the freedom of their wing.

For isn't that what we all desire.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Urban Assault Scooters

The latest in urban assault vehicles. The Cannon mounted Vespa Scooter! Fight hippies and zombies, fully mobile and legal in all 50 states ! (come on Miles, I know you want one).
I'm sorry to say after attempting to read the information on this, in French, it's not an urban assault vehicle, but an idea of the French Military, the ACMA Troupes Aeról Portées Mle. 56. This was essentially a militarized Vespa scooter outfitted with a 75mm recoilless rifle. The rifle could be fired effectively on the move by the better gun crews, but it's probably easy to sight in and aim when your target is bent over laughing. Used by the French Airborne in my parents generation,, they were often dropped out of airplanes with parachutes, which, no matter how I think of it, reminds me of a Monty Python skit. Or other somewhat humorous weapons.

Such as the potato gun. Did you ever build one? We certainly built one or two in our adolescence. Some PVC pipe, a BBQ lighter, some of Mom's Aqua Net hairspray (which could actually be used on hair if you like hair that will withstand a hurricane or a volley of .45 shells) Some are simple, not much more than said pipe and some propellant. Others, quite sophisticated.

Big or small, all spud guns propel projectiles down their barrels using pressurised gas in the same manner as a gun (although at a much lower pressure). The way the basic, non military, civilian spud gun does this is By the combustion of a gaseous fuel-air mixture; this is generally called a combustion launcher, and its pressure is limited primarily by the energy density of the fuel-air mixture (less than 100 psi (7 bar) with all safe fuels). Pretty simple really.

The last one I built. Well, we quickly got bored lobbing taters over the trees so I got the bright idea to launch someones Barbi, ala, the Flying Wallendas. It was a good idea, in theory. Barbie wearing her best spangled bathing suit,was ready to fly. Except somewhere in the launch Barbi. . . . well, Barbie lost her head. And a small female member of the family was NOT happy about it, and snitched us out. Barbi was retired to the Barbie Dream House on full disability, living with a Ken doll the dog had gotten a hold of and gnawed a little, watching TV, and voting Democratic so she'd had that steady supply of stimulus checks. I, however, was grounded for a week.

It was almost worth it.
But today I have real guns, and I've learned a lot about shooting safety from my shooting instructors and regular shooting practice with some folks that know more than I ever will. But that still leaves that age old question. What to do with the potatoes?

How about a nice bowl of Yukon Golds mashed with a hint of bacon and garlic served along some some barbecue ribs (directions in comments).
click to enlarge, if you dare.
Forget the zombies - you might need a weapon to fend off your hungry friends.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Barkley



Forget the candles, I want something that goes "Boom!"

It's Barkley's 7th birthday tomorrow, exactly one month before mine (and if you're curious, in dog years, I'm dead). I think back to one hot day, when he was about seven weeks old and . . .

A small farm in Ohio.



I can't believe he was ever that small. His Mom's owner took me to him and a huge cluster of little black dogs, rounding the corner to greet me and a friends daughter who went with me.

I really didn't need a dog, but I was at a spot in my career where I would be home for a few months without break to train him. Barkley's sire was a National Grand Field Champion and when a coworker got one of the dog's offspring a previous litter, a great little dog, I knew I wanted one of my own. When it came time to select one from the next litter, there were 8 of them, all cute, all cuddly. How to pick? Some of them came frolicking over to me, mindlessly entertained by the smell of new shoes. Barkley just sat and looked at me, as intent as I've seen in a puppy. It was a look of hesitation, not through fear, not physically but in his little doggy spirit, that profoundly sober alertness you see in someone of quiet intelligence as they size you up.

After assessing me carefully he came over and sniffed my hand, then sat at my feet, ignoring the other people there with me, snuffling at my shoelace, while the other pups, losing interest, went off to eat a bug or something. Barkley didn't leave me the rest of the time I was there. Where I went he went. And simply sat and looked at me with satisfaction.

I told myself I wasn't going to get another dog, not going to lose my heart again. Their lifespan is too short, and my heart still ached from losing my last old dog, too soon after another death in the family, the soft release of his spirit in his last breathe against my hand as the doctor slipped the needle into his furry body.

That day, the pups too young to be separated from their Mom, I raced that 50 miles back home down country roads in an old BMW, my heart joyful for the first time in years. In a couple of more weeks I was able to fetch him, and that night as I slept, a little black lab puppy lay on my chest, soothed by the sound of my heart, still reluctant to get far from me.

I've owned several dogs in my life. All large hunting/retriever dogs or huskies. Barkley was my first dog after several years without one, living in a small citified condo while I saved for a large place of my own.
He faithfully waits for me each day that I'm out working. When I'm gone for lengthy periods, one of my two good friends either stays with him or has him over on a sleep over. All are his "pack", be they blond, brunette or redhead, male or female. When I come back, he's either out in the yard playing with kids and dogs, or sitting right by my window, alerted to the sound of the big black 4 x 4 coming up the drive.


He's pretty patient. I don't usually take him out to play as soon as I get home, needing time to unwind myself, especially if it's been a long day or one that's high stress. He'll just sit and look at me and wait, knowing that like the regular phases of the moon, I will soon put a Bass Ale or a Guinness in the fridge to cool for later or brew some tea if I'm on call. Then it's time for running with him around out back and throwing his two favorite toys, a plush bone on a string that I can throw far, or any kind of ball that he can haul around in his mouth.
Yes, as many people might say, he's just a dog. He'll never win any awards as a rocket scientist. He still sits patiently by the spot next to the counter where once a roast chicken fell on the floor, as if there's a secret poultry shrine there and if he waits long enough, another will reappear on its alter. He'll sniff anything he comes across, chase the same ball for an hour, convinced he's on some major breakthrough in retrieval tactics. And he's consumed an entire pizza, a sock, a plastic sandwich bag, a jalapeno pepper and a dead worm, all with the same gusto.


But our pets are family to many of us, and are much more than animals. They teach us about unbridled living in the moment and following your heart. They teach us to appreciate the simple things, the glint of sun off a pond, a walk in the woods, one last look at the night sky as the stars finally fade. As Barkley goes into full point on a plastic deer in someones yard, I think how he has also pointed me to the things that matter in life. Loyalty, devotion and love without strings attached.

He's seen me through good times and bad, as I him. Once while I was away, he badly injured a leg. No one is sure what happened, one minute he was playing in the back yard, jumping high for a toy and the next he was hobbling with pain. My friends were beyond concerned and hoped it was just a sprain. When I got home, he'd quit eating, then drinking and my concern turned to panic. I called Tam and she came over, helping me make a little stretcher out of a rug to get him into the truck and off to the doggie hospital in the city for x-rays. It was a soft tissue injury and they kept him overnight for some hydration, some pain relief, and anti-inflammatories and he was better. But I was like a parent there, in the waiting room, the male vet tech trying to sooth me as I fought tears. He said "are you by yourself" and I sniffed," no a friend is with me" He said, I'll go find them, what do they look like "I said, look for the 6 foot, beautiful blond in the Blackwater hat pacing the lobby looking worried."

We brought him home and he was fine in a few days, but in that moment I got a portent of what it will be like to lose him someday, as I know I will. For now, he's here, the life of the party and a big part of our hearts. Yet, though dogs come and go in the course of our lifetime, yet they always stay with us. I have good memories of duck hunting with my first lab, of romps in mountain snow with my two huskies. Three dog nights, in the big old bed, a mountain storm wrapping itself around a cabin like a dark blanket.

I probably get too attached. But Barkley is family to me. Not a substitute for a relationship with another human being, but an outlet for the warmth I harbor in my soul, seeking a place for the waters of love to go when all else is damned up. He's my confidant, he's my fashion critic (jeans and black t-shirt again? Well if you insist Barkley), he's the soft coated Kleenex when I cry.


He's given me renewed hope in the capacity of a heart, as his ability to love is boundless. He'll stay on alert, face aching with a grimacing growl, keeping that squirrel at bay while I'm at work. He's been the soft nuzzle of concern on my neck after a coughing fit when I'm sick, always there, even if no one else is. I know that even when he's old, muzzle flecked with grey, woken by my movement into the family room where he snoozes in front of the fire, he'll move to my side as swift as strong as ever. Looking at me with brown eyes more humorous and honest than many humans, above the blunt black nose, content simply to be by my side because I'm there.


He's taught me that money doesn't matter, he's as happy with a beat up old toy as anything I could give him; satisfied with a sleeping bag in a tent with me more than a luxurious pillow top mattress. Life is simple, someone to love and something cold to drink, a well loved toy to play with and water.Life has changed for us, by choice. It's no longer the plush life of an upscale suburb, but a quiet existence, with less bills and more values. Life out here has taught us both a lot, myself to be more self reliant

But I love nothing more than sitting in the bed of the truck, Barkley by my side, as the night envelopes us. Some folks say they don't like the silence, needing either people or a TV around and on all the time. Barkley and I love the silence, nothing but our breathing in these open spaces. A tromp out into the corn fields with the old Belgium Browning, maybe a pheasant for dinner if we're lucky. This is all we really need, not a fancy house or 3 cars or designer clothing. We have food, family and something in the distance to chase. . .

. . .a bird or perhaps a dream.


That's all he and I need for now.

It took him a moment to size me up before he selected me, but that first night together, his little doggie heart beating against mine and his tongue licking my cheek, I was the one tasting the finiteness of life, and the inestimable chance we have to connect and love again.

Some things are just too precious to pass up even as we know we can't hold them forever.


OK, it's your birthday, you can have your own can of Tactical Bacon.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Range Menu - Mock Armadillo ?


This is the Gerber Mark 1, a smaller version of the Mark 2 combat knife. It's not really good for field dressing, it was designed to stab in and right back out, a design that's a thousand years or so old, and it's not been bested for that particular design use. But for day to day use, pretty much limited to "See I have a knife ! " displays, mall Ninjas or spearing a tasty tenderloin and bringing it up out of the pan.

Such as the following. Known in the Range household as "Mock Armadillo" I posted a version of recipe a long time back, but several people have asked for it again.

click to enlarge photo
You take a mixture of half low sodium soy sauce and half real maple syrup. Fillet a pork tenderloin (one that length wise would fill a bread pan) or two and marinate for a day in the mixture, enough to cover. About 3 hours before dinner, slice some green onions and a carrot into tiny matchstick sized slivers and saute in a little olive oil with a clove of garlic. Add a twist of ground pepper but do not add salt as the soy sauce has enough already. Veggies should be limp but not overcooked. Remove meat from marinade, unfold the meat, stuff with veggies (amount up to you, I use about 1/4 to 1/3 cup per fillet, "seasoning" as opposed to "filling"). Wrap in raw bacon and secure with toothpicks. Pour some of the leftover marinade over the meat and bake, loosely covered with foil, in bread pans in a 200 degree oven for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. Serve over bread stuffing, or rice after pouring off remaining marinade.

Worth getting out the fancy boot knives for. But you won't need them, you can cut this with a spoon.

 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hitting the Mark

These aren't your typical cowboy biscuits. Made by layering a cream cheese and whipping cream infused biscuit dough with tiny slivers of butter, folding end over end, they're not something you can put together between getting the four legged crittersdown for the night and the first rampage of hungry rangehands. But if you have some time on an evening or weekend, these are well worth the trouble. Several cowboys have tried making them in their own kitchens after I made them for friends, including Old NFO who gave them two thumbs up from his kitchen. The result is 72 layers of dough, with an incredibly light, but definately biscuit, taste. After one of these you will just use that can of "flaky biscuit" dough for target practice. Layered Cream Cheese Biscuits I first had them at the Robinwood Free Meeting House, a creation of Chef Michael Gagne, but I wanted to try and make my own. They were worth the work. They're tall and tender, just like some cowgirl you may know.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Open Skies, Dwindled Dark. Music and Words from Sick Bay :-)

Day 8 of the pneumonia thing. I can breathe without help, I've been fever free for 5 days and though I'm still pretty weak, I'm feeling much better. Doc says I should be able to go back to work late next week, but desk duty only for a bit. Thanks for all the notes and phone calls. For now a repost of one of my favorites. Brigid











The thing I recall most was the lack of clear sunset.

Living in the city you really don't notice the skyline. Or it least, that is as I remember it, time framing those days with a memory more focused than the days themselves. I remember noise, and tall buildings and people rushing about like worker ants, there in those evenings conjured by the time and tide of recollection.

I'd seen land other than my hometown, remembering long drives across the desert on the way to visit my Dad's brother at his ranch. We had no air conditioning and on one such trip, I'd stealthily stowed my turtles along in their little turtle habitat into the trunk, not wanting to leave them for the the lady that fed the dog and watered the plants. Half way across the flats, my Dad went to get something out of the trunk. Turtle soup. I honestly don't remember the incident itself, hearing the story in family tales, but Dad said there was nothing more heartrending for him to watch the heat shimmer off the ground while his little girl cried her eyes out for something, that in its saving, she destroyed.



But later trips were fun. On Spring break instead of hitting the beaches, I bought a Greyhound Ameripass and rode all the way from Seattle to Maine and back, stopping every couple of days for sleep and showers in a cheap hotel, seeing a slice of Americana that included the Tall Corn Motel, thunderstorms gathering over the Black Hills and horizons as broad as our future was.


But then I grew up, graduated, moving to a large urban area and the sunsets came and went without notice. I'd be working and the sun would be there, and the next thing you knew it was just dark, as if God somehow had a clapper and with a movement of mighty hands decided it was bedtime. Perhaps they were there, and I just did not notice, caught up in life, noise and the narcissistic self preservation of youth.

But when a midlife change in careers brought me from a farm in rolling hills down south to the north, I'd forgotten for how FLAT it was. I could say, as the poets did, that the land "gently rolled" but that would be implying way too movement on the earth's part. Other than the occasional wooded down slope into some low creek and river land, it's flat. Plain and simple. It was so different than Montana. I drove for miles without seeing a Starbucks, and out of habit, I'd check the side of the roadway for elk, an action that even after years of less sky and more concrete, was still second nature for me. But here, the only large animals are in the corn, a multitude of unseen deer hiding like silent nuns from human contact and not likely to stray out in the roadway during the daylight hours. Everywhere I look is the remnants of corn, sentient rows of former proud stalks, that stood fading in the early winter air, dead to silent hints of abundant summer past. Summers of green and hard work and plenty.
I notice it hunting, I notice it up on the vast farmland that belongs to a friend. I notice it even more so on the yearly drive back to Colorado to visit Brigid Jr. I went last October, making the drive in two days, stopping only for barbecue outside of Kansas City and gas. The scenery's changes were so very small as I went west, that many would not notice, wrapped up in conversation or music. County after county of silos and sunflowers that fluttered like flags on the breeze until it begins, that slow dance of the sun into the Western sky. It became a ritual, that daily birth and little death of the sun, rising and ceasing like wind or fire. I simply watched, as lengthened shadows crept across the cab, laying themselves like a hand on my thigh, as the sun disappeared in shuddering breath.


As I drove across Kansas, I thought. Why is this land so different from where I grew up? Certainly I can put on the scientist hat and say it was the glaciers that moved down from the north in the Cnozoac era, or the giant dust storms that followed that carried the soil away, then replaced by layers of volcanic ash from the West, creating a vista of fertility. But the difference is more how I live in it, as opposed to it's geological origins.
There is something about being able to see so near and so far. Some people feel exposed out in the open land, I don't. I walk the fields, gun in hand, nothing more than a moving lightning rod for those things that might wish to strike me, but they don't. I feel a lot out here in the open heartland , my hunting dog by my side, and it is not fear, it's comfort. It follows me as I walk, the sound of my breath, the whisper of God there in the corn, the vista of open miles of ground in which I perceive the absolute truth about the past, a truth beyond the buildings and billboards of illusion.

When I went home for the funeral, my family again asked why I didn't move back west. I didn't have a husband or young children to hold me in place, they said. I wasn't quite sure what to say. I don't have any promise to this place. But I like it here, my heart is here, the miles of corn, the open prairie grasses to the West, The lakes up north where the loon sings its song to its beloved. I'll not retire to the land that's become "new California". I'll probably retire to Nebraska or Wyoming, or the Dakotas, some place where I can own miles of land and be self sufficient, driving in once a month for groceries and medical needs.

Til then I'll have my own little patch of earth, flat and rich with grass from the fertile soil with a view looking west. Just to the north, past the woods and the stream, are cornfields, geometric and furrowed, planted in the Spring when the first dove calls to her lover. The land spreads out flat and pure as freshly spilled milk, clear out to where the sun is settling down for the night.

They say the Rockies are God's country, but so is this, a small juncture of tree and grass and perhaps a simple lawn chair. A small point in space among a great expanse of glory, where the Trinity is intact because it had never been otherwise, simply tested by the fragility of youth and the passion of yearning. God lost and then found, postulated here in the open miles of our faith and need.


The afternoon breeze blows in from the next state, curtains gently moving inward and out, as if by the breath of summer itself. The grill is warmed up, Barkley guarding against squirrels intent on stealing a Bratwurst. No, I don't think I'll move back West, content to be here. Especially on days like today, in which I have no demands on my time, other than to just sit and watch the sun go down. At the edge of the woods, the large nature preserve to which the house backs up, there are deer, silent and secritive, watching from the darkness. I point my finger at an unseen buck. Bang.

With a look to see how much light is left to grill, and a sip of lemonade, I take in a memory of my last hunt from a blind. It was a day of bracing cold and little activity, the sky spitting snow, the deer hunkered down for warmth as I should have been.

At noon I came on down for a mashed peanut butter sandwich and a nature break. Then I went back up. The afternoon sky began to clear, sun glinting off the large cornfield that bisected the stands of trees where marks indicated that the deer had their own superhighway.
The deer weren't moving that day, too much wind, too much blowing snow, they'd likely stay down until morning. As I will soon. But I had no great desire to leave the stand just yet, captivated by the sunset that could be seen for miles.

There, in the western sky it began. What struck me were the colors. How do you describe such color? First a gathering blue grey like the whole of a confederate army taking over that space between light and dark, leaving streaks of red upon the ground, blood leaching into the earth. That royal blue-red, that in centuries past would have been forbidden to be worn by the masses, on threat of death. Then the sun lights up the horizon in one last encore before leaving, oranges and yellows, dripping like forgotten fruit into the horizon, their taste and texture, fragrant and lush against the plate of the earth. Then, finally, darkness that hints of languid dreams as it pulls itself up over the form of earth to cover it and keep it warm.

And so I sat, under sunless, moonless cover, my gun in my lap, the night a blanket over me. So dark. So quiet. I was left to trace in the early night with my eyes closed, all those variated colors that I held for an instant, all the colors that I cataloged in memory, alone in the darkness, the lost hues and shades, sitting up in a tree watching the land as the eyes of day went dim.
Tonight I'm just in a lawn chair out on the back deck, but the colors are the same. For on yet another night, the sun makes it's scheduled and solitary goodbye. But if I keep my eyes closed, closed real tight, I can still see the sun, bursting across the back of my eyelids, in the frames of memory of other warm evenings. Color splashing across blackness, set loose in a sudden spray, a thought of something, someone, in the back of my mind. A thought that feels as ticklish as electricity before the blackout. Thought of the color and the warmth of those fine days, a sudden flash of light in this dark world. So I keep my eyes closed as long as I can, to hold the picture in. I've got the last light of thought in my soul, stored in a photograph engraved on my eyes, and it will keep me until the sight of another dwindled night brings you back to me.