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Archive for the ‘Death’ Category



By Elizabeth Statmore


I wanted to find that Anne Lamott essay on their dog’s dying, but it’s in another book and I don’t have time to find it right now.

This is the first work day without Fromage, and I can already tell there are going to be a lot of awful firsts like this — first Trash Night without him, for example. Trash Night was Fromage’s favorite holiday. Lucky for him, it came every week. Tuesday nights, after dinner, we would bring the trash and recycling and composting down the front stairs and haul the wheeled cans to the curb — black for rubbish, blue for recycling, green for compostables.

David would wind him up as I started gathering the bags in the kitchen. “Trash Night!” he would exclaim to Fromage. “Trash Night!” And Fromage would start to dance around the room excitedly, wagging his tail hard and barking.

“Trash Night! Trash Night!”

Bark! Bark! Bark!

Being descended from a long line of working dogs and shepherds, he would herd me with our bags toward the front door, barking as if to yell, “Hurry up! It’s Trash Night, dammit!”

As far as he was concerned, the best nights were the ones when we needed to make the trip to the sidewalk more than once. He would dash up the stairs and bark down at me, urging me on. While I dealt with the carts and the bags, he would amble over to lift his leg and pee on a nearby sidewalk tree. it was his holiday — and now he is going to miss it forever more as we are going to miss him.

This hole in my heart feels bottomless, and it makes me wonder if I will ever feel whole again. I miss him with an ache and an urgency I can’t describe with words. This is my life now.

***
8:00 p.m. insight — Fromage does not want us to be lonely. He wants us to adopt another dog who can watch over us.

He loves us and doesn’t want us to be lonely.

He stayed as long as he could, but he just couldn’t do his job of taking care of us any more and he had to go. He’d dragged himself through sickness and dying, and it was time for him to leave us.

But he doesn’t want us to be lonely for too long.

He loves us and wishes us the best. It’s not a betrayal of him for us to love a new dog.


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About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and teacher of writing and mathematics. She is a long-time practitioner and teacher of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg. A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last posts for red Ravine include Seed Starting, a piece about writers as gardeners, and Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece — a step-by-step tutorial on how she turned a raw piece of writing into a finished radio commentary. Elizabeth was also one of our first guest writers, contributing the post Abandoned Is… Fromage was her dog and spirit guide of almost fourteen years.

The Gifts Of Trash Night is Part II in a series of three Writing Practices about the love and loss of Fromage. Part I is titled Long.

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Graves, Upper Mill Cemetery, Circa 1806 – 10/365, Archive 365, McIntosh County, Darien, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It was blistering hot and steamy the afternoon we visited the Upper Mill Cemetery in Darien, Georgia. On a search for ancestral archives, Liz, Mom and I took a road trip from Augusta, Georgia to St. Simons Island where we spent a few days and visited with relatives. We then drove north stopping in Fort Frederica and Upper Mill Cemetery in Darien. Our last stop was Savannah, a city I hope to visit again someday. Looking through these photographs, I realize how important it is to document your travels. It’s been four years since I have returned to the South. Each photo conjures the heat, humidity, live oaks, Gold Coast breezes, white packed sand, and the pilgrimage to Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home.

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ARCHIVE 365 is a photo collaboration between skywire7 and QuoinMonkey featuring images from our archives. We will alternate posting once a day in our Flickr sets from July 1st 2012 through June 30th 2013. You can view our photographs at skywire7 Archive 365 set on Flickr and QuoinMonkey Archive 365 set on Flickr.

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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By Elizabeth Statmore


Fromage died on Saturday, May 12th 2012 at 11:30 p.m. at All Animals Emergency Hospital, surrounded by us and our love. He was dehydrated and disoriented, with a temperature of 105.6. Normal temperature for dogs is 101-ish, with 102 being in the high fever range. So Fromage had a raging fever, probably from a combination of a brain tumor (or nervous system tumor) and end-stage kidney disease.

We knew it was serious when he couldn’t do anything with a Beggin’ Strip — his favorite treat in the universe. And I’d dreamed Wednesday morning that he died. I knew it was a precognitive dream, but I didn’t know how or when the end would happen.

He did his utmost to stay alive for me — to support me and love me through this disorienting chapter of my life. He showed the same heroic courage and love he had shown us all his life. He was an impeccable warrior to the end, but in the end it was time to let him go.

It was the night before Mother’s Day.

It’s the little things that really punch me in the gut — the moments that interrupt my conditioned habits, such as automatically tucking the newspaper bags into the plastic bag collection next to the front door, only to realize that I don’t have a need to save dog poop bags any more.

I put his sterling silver tag on a chain and started wearing it around my neck last night as I went to bed.

He was the only being who has ever called me his mother. On our first Mother’s Day he bought me a pair of dog socks.

He was the dog of my life.

He was the dog of my heart.

I somehow left my favorite fountain pen at school on Friday, but I was too stressed-out and worried yesterday to deal with it. But this morning, all I wanted to do was write, so I drove down to school and back to retrieve it.

When we got to All Animals, Fromage had a fever of 105.6. This was a raging brain fever. He couldn’t even walk down our front stairs. I carried him in my arms down the thirteen front steps — all 60+ pounds of him. David carried him into the car. He was dehydrated and disoriented and scared. He was dying.

I held him in the back seat while David drove. He lay quietly on the back seat, watching where we were going.

He had kept himself alive so he could support me. And now I knew it was my turn to support him by letting him go and by easing his passage into the next world, into his next life.

Fred always said that Fromage was my spirit guide.

Now my heart just aches. David’s too. Fromage loved David so much, even though David felt hurt that Fromage was always so freaked out and demented these last few years. David hugged him and loved him too, even though there was so much dog hair. By last night, no one cared.

I can’t put away his old beds or mats yet. I am still processing the fact that he is gone. There is a giant Fromage-shaped hole in my heart — one with one stand-up ear and one flappy ear. The stand-up ear is his right one. It has a bite taken out of the tip. My lips and fingers know the shape of that missing spot instinctively. Completely. Like a fingerprint.

He’d been staying alive to get me through this tough time. On Wednesday night I got the word that my layoff notice had been rescinded. He went downhill fast from there.

I loved that dog so much.

He loved me more purely and wholeheartedly than I had ever been loved before. It was a healing kind of love. He healed me. He made me whole.

When Crystal and I saw Mary Oliver the first time at the Herbst a few years ago, Mary had recently lost her longtime partner, Molly Malone Cook, and had been writing about it for some time. A woman in the audience asked how she’d gotten through the devastating loss. “Well,” she said, first you go a little crazy. You go nuts for a while.” That thought comforts me now. I am going to have to go a little nuts for a while while I grieve.

The loss feels cavernous.

It’s also tinged with fear and shame that I might not be experiencing appropriate gratitude for the gift of his life. I *do* feel a bottomless gratitude for his life. It’s just that right now, this is the part where I have to take in and let out the hurting — the loss and the groundlessness of impermanence.

In legal terms, I rescued him, but the emotional truth is that he is the one who rescued me.

He was a magical dog, a magical creature. In mythical terms, he was my magical helper-being.

“A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky,” Mary Oliver writes in one of her dog poems. In so many, many ways I’ve been very, very lucky. Fromage was in good health and good spirits until this very last week. He enjoyed long walks and Trash Night and giving David five and ten and eating Beggin’ Strips until the very last day of his life. He watched for my return through the glass in the front door every single day of our life together.

As we left the hospital room after it was over, I kissed him behind his flappy ear — where, even in death, he still smelled like a puppy — and I whispered to him, “Okay, Puppity, guard the house.”

Then we left the treatment room and closed the door behind us.

I did not look back.


Fromage at the Dog Garden, Dog Garden, San Francisco, California, April 2004, photo © 2004 by Carlos Hillson. All rights reserved.


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About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and teacher of writing and mathematics. She is a long-time practitioner and teacher of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg. A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last posts for red Ravine include Seed Starting, a piece about writers as gardeners, and Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece — a step-by-step tutorial on how she turned a raw piece of writing into a finished radio commentary. Elizabeth was also one of our first guest writers, contributing the post Abandoned Is… Fromage was her dog and spirit guide of almost fourteen years.

Long is Part I in a series of three Writing Practices about the love and loss of Fromage.

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Camp Savage – 4/365, Archive 365, Camp Savage, Savage, Minnesota, June 2009, photo © 2009-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Independence

Banging fireworks against pre-dawn chatter.
Red night, white galaxy, blue smoke
in the air, flowers made of fire.

Freedom does not rest
or sit softly on her laurels.
She is war-like and stubborn,
not blind to the truth.

“Fight for what you believe in” she liked to say.

Independence remains passive,
13 stripes, 50 stars
but fiercely springs to life
when freedom is stripped away.

never rest easy –
in the dawn’s early light
there is much work to do





ABOUT THE PHOTOS:

Liz and I stumbled on Camp Savage in 2009 while out on a day trip to take photos. I was shocked and surprised because I had no idea such a place existed in Minnesota. The Nisei (second generation) at Camp Savage were translators of language, maps, and documents during World War II. When Marylin submitted her piece about her childhood friend whose family was sent to a Japanese internment camp, I was inspired to go back and take a look at these photographs again. It’s the first time I have consciously written haibun (more about the form at haiku 4 (one-a-day) meets renga 52). I like working in the format of both prose and haiku. Independence Day in the United States reminds me of all the ways that people fight hard to gain freedom, independence, and equality, even within our own country. Below are the words on the plaque at Camp Savage:

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Independence, flag at Camp Savage, Savage, Minnesota, June 2009, photo © 2009-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

During World War II, some 5,000 to 6,000 Japanese American soldiers, members of the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Service, were given intensive and accelerated classes in the Japanese language at Camp Savage.

Their subsequent work translating captured documents, maps, battle plans, diaries, letters, and printed materials and interrogating Japanese prisoners made them “Our human secret weapons,” according to President Harry Truman, who commended them following the war.

The Military Intelligence Service (MIS) program began in the fall of 1941, a few weeks before Pearl Harbor, at the Presidio in San Francisco.

For security reasons it was moved in May, 1942 to Camp Savage, a site personally selected by language school commandant Colonel Kai E. Rasmussen, who believed Savage was “a community that would accept Japanese Americans for their true worth — American soldiers fighting with their brains for their native America.”

The 132-acre site had served as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the 1930s and was later used to house elderly indigent men.

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Plaque At Camp Savage, Savage, Minnesota, June 2009, photo © 2009-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Conditions there were extremely difficult in the early months of the war, when the first students studied without desks, chairs, or even beds. By August, 1944 the program had outgrown Camp Savage and was moved to larger facilities at Fort Snelling

Most of the English-speaking Japanese Americans, known as Nisei, were from the West Coast area. Some were already in the U.S. military service when they were selected for the language school, while others were volunteers from the camps in which American citizens of Japanese ancestry had been interned following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

According to General Charles Willoughby, chief of Intelligence for General Douglas MacArthur, “the 6,000 Nisei shortened the Pacific war by two years.”

-erected by the Savage Chamber of Commerce, 1993



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ARCHIVE 365: Since the completion of BlackBerry 365, I have missed a daily photo practice. There are so many photos from my archives that no one has ever seen but me. So I asked skywire7 if she wanted to do a daily practice for one year, taking turns posting an unpublished photograph from the past.

Archive 365 is a photo collaboration between skywire7 and QuoinMonkey featuring images from our archives. We will alternate posting once a day in our Flickr sets from July 1st 2012 through June 30th 2013. You can view our photographs at skywire7 Archive 365 set on Flickr and QuoinMonkey Archive 365 set on Flickr.

-posted on red Ravine, Independence Day, July 4th, 2012. Related to post:  Abraham Lincoln & Nikki Giovanni (On Poets & Presidents)

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Documentary Shorts At The Riverview, Droid Shots, original photograph edited with Paper Camera, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2012, photo © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


When Liz was asked what movie she wanted to see before a belated birthday dinner at Blackbird, she chose the Oscar Nominated Short Documentary films at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis. The filmmakers took us around the world, Baghdad to Birmingham, Pakistan to Japan. The presentation included four of the five films nominated for an Oscar in the Short Documentary category for 2012: Incident in Baghdad, Saving Face, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, and The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement. (The fifth nominee, God Is The Bigger Elvis could not be shown due to licensing issues.)

In 130 minutes, I swept through a full range of emotions. Saving Face moved me to tears one minute; the next I was smiling with the big hearted doctor who traveled to Pakistan to reconstruct the acid scarred faces of women attacked by their husbands. Incident in New Baghdad horrified me and reminded me how sheltered most Americans have been from the ravages of two wars.

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom had a visual yin and yang quality. Grief, destruction, devastation, and loss following the tsunami in northern Japan; delicate blossoms of centuries old cherry trees restore hope in ways “beautiful but not showy.” James Armstrong, The Barber of Birmingham, walked steady and strong through decades of the Civil Rights Movement, and listened closely when he cut the hair of Dr. Martin Luther King. His mantra: “Dying isn’t the worst thing a man can do. The worst thing a man can do is nothing.”

The men, women, and children in these documentaries survived against all odds. They are impeccable warriors who teach me to pay attention, find my voice, and not be afraid to speak out. They teach me to show gratitude for the gift that is my life. They teach me about courage.  Through hardship and injustice, they show up and tell their stories to filmmakers who ensure their stories are heard. I hope you take the opportunity to see these films. They will inspire you to live life to the fullest, to take risks with your art and writing, and walk the way of the peaceful warrior.



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Incident in New Baghdad – 25 minutes – USA – James Spione

One of the most notorious incidents of the Iraq War – the July 2007 slayings of two Reuters journalists and a number of other unarmed civilians by US attack helicopters – is recounted in the powerful testimony of American infantryman Ethan McCord whose life was profoundly changed by his experiences on the scene.


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Saving Face – 40 minutes – Pakistan/USA – Daniel Junge, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy

Every year hundreds of people — mostly women — are attacked with acid in Pakistan. The HBO Documentary SAVING FACE follows several of these survivors, their fight for justice, and a Pakistani plastic surgeon who has returned to his homeland to help them restore their faces and their lives.


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The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom – 39 minutes – Japan/USA – Lucy Walker

Survivors in the areas hardest hit by Japan’s recent tsunami find the courage to revive and rebuild as cherry blossom season begins. A stunning visual poem about the ephemeral nature of life and the healing power of Japan’s most beloved flower.


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The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement – 25 minutes – USA – Gail Dolgin and Robin Fryday

Mr. James Armstrong is an 85-year-old barber, a “foot soldier” and a dreamer whose barbershop in Birmingham, Alabama has been a hub for haircuts and civil rights since 1955. The dream of a promised land, where dignity and the right to vote belong to everyone, is documented in photos, headlines and clippings that cram every inch of wall space in his barbershop. On the eve of the election of the first African American president, the Barber of Birmingham sees his unimaginable dream come true.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, February 22th, 2012. Read more about the films at the links and watch a trailer at the Riverview website.

-related to posts: And The Oscar Goes To…, Eloquent Nude At The Riverview

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Lincoln’s Birthday, Indie bookstore window photographed with Canon Powershot & edited with PhotoShop Elements, Wayzata, Minnesota, February 16th, 2009, photo © 2009-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


A few years ago, Liz and I went to see Ronald C. White, Jr. at the Bookcase of Wayzata, an independent bookstore on Lake Minnetonka. He was there to discuss his new book, A. Lincoln: A Biography. I had heard him interviewed earlier in the morning on MPR; Liz and I decided to be spontaneous and go hear him speak. The little Indie bookstore was packed.

White talked about how Lincoln loved words. And because of that, his words were like poetry. White wrote his book for those who might be reading a Lincoln biography for the first time, or to introduce Lincoln to a younger generation. He also spoke about how Obama started to shine a light on Lincoln, and how he (White) was booked for speaking engagements in Mississippi and Alabama, and also in Europe where many think Abe Lincoln personifies the American Dream.

More than 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln. Yet not all of his story has been told. At the end of the Civil War, between March and April 1865, Lincoln went to Northern Virginia to meet with his generals. He shook hands with thousands of Union soldiers and visited the former Confederate capital in Richmond, Virginia. But little is known about the last week of his life before his assassination on April 14, 1865.

Historian Noah Andre Trudeau thinks that in their rush to get to Ford’s Theater, historians have overlooked this important part of Lincoln’s life. After the Civil War, the President of the United States met Generals Grant and Sherman in Virginia to talk about the surrender of the South and its impact on our country. Lincoln visited Richmond, then considered enemy territory, as an observer. He was looking for ways a torn nation could begin to heal.

Having spent my childhood in the South, and most of my adult years in the North, I am compelled to follow literature about the Civil War. One of my ancestors was a courier for Robert E. Lee. When we moved to the North, one of the first places we visited was the Gettysburg battlefield. I am fascinated by the work of photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan who took this photo, one half of a stereo view of Alfred R. Waud, artist of Harper’s Weekly, while he sketched on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July of 1863. (See links below for the rest of the Atlantic series on photographs of the Civil War.)

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. Trudeau is known for uncovering its secrets. His previous books, Bloody Roads South and Gettysburg, have unveiled information about General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to the sea in 1864, and the legacy of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Now, in preparation for the book about a largely unexamined period of President Abraham Lincoln’s life, Trudeau is in search of witnesses.

He is seeking diary entries, letters or stories of people who encountered Lincoln at the time. During the NPR story, I was surprised to hear several people call in with leads to family scrapbooks and letters relating to Lincoln. (To share information, contact him at lincoln65@earthlink.net.) About his quest for truth, Trudeau states: “My one nightmare is that I’m going to do a very good job of discrediting all the good stories.” I think it’s quite the contrary. The more stories revealed, the closer we are to weaving together the textured layers of the past, and unraveling the sometimes painful chapters in American history.


Resources:

Historian Seeks Artifacts From Lincoln’s Last Days : NPR Talk Of The Nation (LINK)

A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr. at his Official Website (LINK)

Abraham Lincoln and Slavery | Minnesota Public Radio News (LINK) – historian Eric Foner examines Abraham Lincoln’s complex ideas about slavery and African Americans, casting fresh light on an American icon.

The Civil War, Part 1: The Places, the Atlantic – February 8th, 2012 (LINK) – First installment of amazing b&w photographs of important places in the Civil War. (Some images in the three Series are graphic.)

The Civil War, Part 2: The People, the Atlantic – February 9th, 2012 (LINK) – Second installment of b&w photographs of the Civil War. Includes a photo portrait of Abraham Lincoln taken by photographer Alexander Gardner on February 5, 1865.

Traditionally called “last photograph of Lincoln from life”, this final photo in Lincoln’s last photo session was long thought to have been made on April 10, 1865, but more recent research has indicated the earlier date in February. The crack comes from the original negative, which was broken and discarded back in 1865. The entirety of the American Civil War took place while Lincoln was in office, starting a month after he was elected, and ending just days before his assassination in April of 1865.

The Civil War, Part 3: The Stereographs, the Atlantic – February 10th, 2012 (LINK) – Third installment of the Stereographs of the Civil War with the work of photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 12th, 2012, birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Related to posts: Abraham Lincoln & Nikki Giovanni (On Poets & Presidents), Presidential Poetics — Elizabeth Alexander, President Barack Obama, Book Talk — Do You Let Yourself Read?

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Sunrise Undercover, Droid Shots, original photograph edited with Paper Camera, sunrise at a writing retreat in a small town outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, February 2012, photo © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.







The Fallow Field


The master gardener
tithes and tills,
never forgetting to bury her dead—
broken bones rise from the fallow field
odorous compost, grist for the mill.








-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 6th, 2012, at a self-propelled silent writing retreat outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With gratitude to my writing friends. For more on composting and how we structure these small silent retreats see:  Sit, Walk, Write On Lake Michigan, I Write Because…, and Make Positive Effort For The Good.

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Triptych: After The Blue Rain, inspired by Irish poet John O’Donohue, original photograph: an early Winter Solstice Fire 2011, altered in PhotoShop Elements, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2012, photos © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.





after the blue rain

Have you walked
the barren landscape
of the chattering wire —
blue rain runs in the silence
of a white hot fire.






-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, January 28th, 2012, gogyohka inspired by Irish poet John O’Donohue after listening to one of his last interviews before his unexpected death in 2008:  The Inner Landscape of Beauty with Krista Tippett, On Being (LINK)


When you cease to fear your solitude, a new creativity awakens in you. Your forgotten or neglected wealth begins to reveal itself. You come home to yourself and learn to rest within. Thoughts are our inner senses. Infused with silence and solitude, they bring out the mystery of inner landscape.” — John O’Donohue from Anam Cara (In Memoriam)


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January Bear Moon, Olympus Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2012, photo © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.








Jewel of the North Woods
under the waning Bear Moon —
will you birth your cubs
on Lily's birthday? Or three days later,
when Hope's Spirit comes to play.









NOTE: Jewel the black bear is in the early stages of labor (you can watch at this link: Jewel’s Live Den Cam or check out the links in the poem to see Jim Stroner’s photographs of the bears). Jewel is a wild black bear, the sister of the famous Lily the Black Bear who gave birth to Hope on January 22nd, 2010 (we lost Hope last September during the 2011 Minnesota hunting season). If I remember correctly, it is Lily’s day of birth today, January 19th. I wrote the poem before I read the Wildlife Research Institute update tonight stating that it will be biologist Sue Mansfield’s birthday on January 20th (Happy Birthday, Sue!). The mystery remains, on whose birthday will Jewel of the Northwoods have her cubs?

The photograph was taken a few weeks ago at the Full January Moon. Liz and I went out into the urban Wild to photograph the Moon as she rose. Depending on your background, the January Moon is known as the Wolf Moon, the Cold Moon, and the Bear Moon (among many other names). It’s the Bear Moon all  month long, not just at the Full Moon, and is usually one of the brightest Moons of the year. Stay warm, Jewel. It’s -6 in the Twin Cities and -15 in Ely, Minnesota. We are watching your every breath.


-posted on red Ravine, , Thursday, January 19th, 2012, with gratitude to biologists Lynn Rogers & Sue Mansfield

-related to posts: haiku 4 (one-a-day) meets renga 52, MN Black Bear Den Cam: Will Lily Have Cubs?

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By Bob Chrisman

I believe that I will never know the meaning of life, where I came from, why I’m here, or where I’m going when I die (if anywhere) because I can’t know those things from my limited perspective of the universe and how it functions. I believe that my not knowing doesn’t matter because I can’t and won’t know everything in this world or in the cosmos. It doesn’t work that way.

I believe in the inherent goodness of all people which somehow gets mucked up along the way by the environment in which they live, the people who raise them, and their capacity to endure hard times without being embittered. I believe we all start out life as innocents and the world around us works hard to turn us this way or that depending on so many factors that it’s pointless to worry about what one person did to influence someone.

I believe I will die. My personal experience tells me that everyone I know who has died is really dead and not faking it. Some people think they won’t die and I’m willing to hang around and see if that’s true or not. I can’t imagine anything more horrifying than living forever in this world or in another.

I believe I was meant to be a happy person—actually that we were all meant to be happy, but the world of illusion works to convince us we are not happy and are incapable of being happy without something else. We are constantly assaulted with the idea that if we have this pair of jeans, that pair of shoes, this religious faith, that spiritual practice, this deodorant, that breath spray—that something will allow us to live in eternal bliss. We have all we need right now to be in a state of bliss. Easier said than experienced in our world.

I believe the things that happen to us are neither bad nor good, that we don’t “deserve” to have certain events occur in our lives, and that life is random with no “cause and effect” in play. And by that, I mean we aren’t the victims of some karma or some deity who wants to even the score or restore the balance. I do believe there are consequences of our actions, but we can’t always know what those will be.

I believe for every drop of rain that falls…time’s up.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — I BELIEVE… is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey, Laura, and Sandrarenee in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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Say Goodbye To Tungsten Light, Golden Valley, Minnesota, December 2011, photo © 2011-2012. All rights reserved.


I burn the Christmas lights long after the day has passed. The soft warm glow of tungsten soothes me. I grew up on film photography, old school, and loathed florescent and LED. Say goodbye to tungsten; the last 100 watt bulb rolled off the DEC 2011-12-18 19.40.22assembly line in December 2011. We lost poet Ruth Stone in 2011 and singer-songwriter Phoebe Snow. They leave behind a rich legacy–their poetry. We lost Hope, the world’s most famous black bear, to the long arms of a Minnesota hunting season. Did they choose their lives, or did their lives choose them?

Goodbye December, January awaits. I look forward to the New Year. In setting goals for 2012, I can’t help but think of the things I will leave to 2011. I never heard back from my father, yet I feel glad I wrote the letter. It is one less thing I have to wonder about. Mr. Stripey Pants had surgery on Monday, December 12th. Bone rubbed on bone in his lower jaw when he chewed his food. We tried to be upbeat that morning, saying he was on his way to breakfast at Tiffany’s (the name of his surgeon). A few weeks later he is almost back to normal. The scar tissue that had formed around a puncture wound near a back tooth has been removed; it was not cancerous. I am grateful for good vet care and the resources to pay for it.

Minnesota leaves behind the 86 inches of snow from last Winter, an unfair trade for the tawny grasses and 50 degree days in the Twin Cities last week. I don’t miss the shoveling, but wonder how the Art Shanty Project will take place on Medicine Lake in January. Where is the frozen Minnesota tundra of 2011? I leave behind a broiling sweaty Summer where I did little gardening. The cedars look limp and brown. Fall 2011 was 1323477165415one of the driest on record. Rain, rain, come and play, don’t wait another day. I have grown to miss the rain.

I leave behind a year of no travel, unusual for me. My large extended family lives in Pennsylvania and Georgia, so I often plan vacations around flying back East. I missed visiting with them. In 2011, I attended no out of state writing workshops. I did not take a vacation outside of Minnesota. There was one trip to North Dakota, but not for pleasure (though it had its moments). I leave behind all the angst and sorrow created by the greed and selfishness of others. You sometimes learn the most about people when things go awry. It’s not over yet. The law requires patience, and the resources to carry through over the long haul.

Dear December, there were days you left me nostalgic and somber. But I vow to enter 2012 with optimism and gratitude. Long line for A Christmas Story at Riverview!I will long carry the joy of my brother’s visit to Minnesota the week before Thanksgiving. I carry two healthy cats, Kiev and Mr. Stripey Pants. I carry the love of a caring partner, close friends, and family. I carry excitement at the prospect of celebrating Liz’s birthday in January, and a trip to Wisconsin for a self-propelled writing retreat in February, what used to be the dead of Winter. I leave behind anger, resentment, regret; I release what is no longer helping me be the best person I can be. What people, places or things do you leave behind?

The pantry is stocked. The black-eyed peas soak in the pot, ready to bless the place I call home with good luck and cheer. I am grateful for those who stick with me in times of uncertainty. I am grateful for those who come to the aid of all HOLIDAYsentient beings in this world, not just humans. I am grateful that we do not inhabit this planet alone, that there are ancient burr oaks, Southern live oaks, slithering snakes, hairy spiders, playful black bears and white winter squirrels. I am grateful that the decisions that matter most are not left in the hands of humans.

December, I say goodbye to you tonight with gratitude and anticipation. I am thankful for your rituals. It’s the night before the New Year. What will my yearly practices be? It will be around the last fire of 2011 that I choose goals for 2012. Thank you, December, for having the courage to let go.


-posted on red Ravine, New Year’s Eve, December 31st, 2011

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SPACE auto











-posted on red Ravine Sunday, September 11th, 2011, 9:02am

-related to the piece: Remembering – September 11th, 2008

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may sarton p20110614-235734

Moments Of Flowering – 22/52, BlackBerry 52, Golden Valley, Minnesota, June 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Medium: original Droid snapshot of the last peony in our garden, June 2011. Polaroid effect and text added with Little Photo. Jump-Off from Lotus: Not Even Deep Into The Summer, a haiga collaboration with Robin from Life In The Bogs.


Dark clouds pile high over the hill, whipped cream on dirty snow. The sky smells like damp moss and rotting leaves. I squat in a swarm of rain-ready mosquitoes, and aim the camera toward the one surviving peony not browning at the edges. Though strong, she will falter under the weight of the next crack of thunder, pregnant with hard rain. Aching knees. I swat away a bead of sweat, listen to the pretend shutter click.

The pink peony lures me in, along with a lonely ant crawling toward the vortex of petals, sucked in like the prey of a Venus Flytrap. I think of a page from May Sarton’s journal—Journal of a Solitude, the entry from June 23rd. Summer in New Hampshire could be Summer in Minnesota. The humidity feels heavy. The world has gone mad. Too much happens these days. But the peony rises every year from buried piles of January snow, from the trampling of the mailman over her Winter stalks, from under the tire tracks of the neighbor’s SUV the night it drifted off the pitched driveway and on to the muddy grass.

It takes a whole year of work to bloom. I pay attention to the garden. My whole life comes alive there.



_____________________________



June 23rd


Almost too much happens these days. How can I be enough aware of all that opens and dies so quickly in the garden? It takes a whole year of work and waiting for this supreme moment of the great snow-white peonies—and then they are gone! I was thinking about it as I lay in bed this morning, and also of Mildred’s wise remark, “The roots of love need watering or it dies.” When she leaves, the house is at peace. Beauty and order have returned, and always she has left behind a drop of balm, such as that phrase; so her work here is a work of art. There is a mystical rite under the material act of cleaning and tidying, for what is done with love is always more than itself and partakes of the celestial orders.

It does not astonish or make us angry that it takes a whole year to bring into the house three great white peonies and two pale blue iris. It seems altogether right and appropriate that these glories are earned with long patience and faith (how many times this late spring I have feared the lilacs had been frost-killed, but in the end they were as glorious as ever before), and also that it is altogether right and appropriate that they cannot last. Yet in our human relations we are outraged when the supreme moments, the moments of flowering, must be waited for…and then cannot last. We reach a summit, and then have to go down again.

   —May Sarton from Journal of a Solitude. First Published 1973, by W.W. Norton & Company.



-posted on red Ravine, Friday, June 17th, 2011

-related to posts: The Ant & The Peony, WRITING TOPIC — NAMES OF FLOWERS, Secrets of the Passion Flower, WRITING TOPIC — SPRING CLEANING — (HOMEMADE CLEANING REMEDIES)

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Celebrate Peace - 18/52

Celebrate Peace – 18/52, BlackBerry 52, Golden Valley, Minnesota, May 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s Memorial Day 2011. The skies over Golden Valley are green and gray. Rain pelts the freshly splashed grass seed. The lawn has been mowed. The cedar branches that bent to the ground in the last snowstorm are trimmed. I’m cleaning the rust off my writing pen. Where to start?

I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site and left Uncle James a message. He is not forgotten. One day I will take the time to go back through my film archives and locate the negatives from the day I photographed the Wall in 1984. It was an unplanned visit, a stop on a road trip back East after I moved from Montana to the Twin Cities. Unknown to me, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was being dedicated that same year. Veterans dotted the landscape of Washington D.C.; I found my uncle’s name and did a rubbing on a thin strip of paper.

A few years ago, I reconnected with my aunt, his widow, and told her I had never forgotten James. She told me that the day he died, he visited her and asked about the baby, his son. The baby was not yet born. He never met him. She swears he was there with her, standing in the same room. She would not get the official word until the next day—he had been killed in war. I feel somber inside, remembering. But it’s not like me to forget. Some think I live in the past. Sometimes the moment is the past. The same way it is the future. To understand war, I try to celebrate peace.

It feels good to be writing again. Art-A-Whirl was a big success. The Casket Arts Studio space was my home for the last month. The Writers Hands Series is up on the wall. The cards and postcards are selling well. Liz has her Found Frame Series up; her Landmark Series makes beautiful postcards. Thank you to all who visited during the crazy rain and tornado skies of Art-A-Whirl. It means a lot to us.

A haunting aspect of art and writing is that you have to burn the candle at both ends to see projects through. I was sick during Art-A-Whirl week but just had to keep going. Once I got to the studio, the energy of art and the people who love it carried the day. But I had to give up time in other areas, like the unplanned hiatus from red Ravine. I appreciate you, the readers, who keep coming back. I checked in but did not have the energy to write and prepare for the long hours of Art-A-Whirl. Something had to give. I missed the community.

The photograph of the PEACE sign (part of the BlackBerry 52 Series with Lotus) is made of seashells sent to me by Heather, a friend I met through red Ravine. She often tweets about her life by the California shoreline. One day, she asked if we wanted her to send a little of the ocean our way. In a landlocked Cancer stupor, I said, “Yes!” She mailed a box of shells the next day. When they got here, they were filled with sand and smelled like salt air, crab, and clam. I laid them out on the deck table under Minnesota skies to air out. Peace flowed from the backs of ocean creatures. Thank you, Heather.

And thank you for listening. I am off to Studio 318 to work on a piece about May Sarton. It’s time to get back to my practices. It’s time to write again. It’s time to post on red Ravine, to journal and print more photographs. This week is First Thursdays. Stop by and see us! What I really want to say is that I appreciate the community that visits here. Art and writing are not created out of a vacuum. We are all in this together.



-posted on red Ravine, Memorial Day, Monday, May 30th, 2011

Lotus and I will continue to respond to each other’s BlackBerry Jump-Off photos with text, photography, poetry (however we are inspired) for the 52 weeks of 2011. You can read more at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration. If you are inspired to join us, send us a link to your images, poetry, or prose and we’ll add them to our posts.

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING, PRACTICE – Memorial Day – 10min, PRACTICE: Memorial Day — 10min, May Day Self-Portrait: Searching For Spring, The Yogi (Cover Page) — 14/52, Nesting & Resting, Pulling Out The Sun (By Day, By Night), BlackBerry 365 Project — White Winter Squirrel, Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Searching For Stillness, icicle tumbleweed (haiga) — 2/52, The Mirado Black Warrior, Waning Moon (Haiga), Alter-Ego Mandala: Dreaming Of The Albatross (For Bukowski), EarthHealer — Mandala For The Tortoise

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By Judith Ford

This is, I think, the first year I’ve begun to accept the notion that I will one day die. Not that it’s been a big secret. I watched each of my parents die. My mother, who was always the dramatic one, died peacefully, while my father, who’d never been much for self-expression, died struggling and full of fear and rage. Resisting all the way. Someone once said to me that we all die as we’ve lived. Not my parents.

I turned 63 a couple months ago. Not one of those BIG ages, like 21 or 40 or even the big 6-oh, but for me, a signal. A signal to pay attention. There isn’t as much time ahead as there is behind me. I might have said that last year or even ten years ago but for some reason, on this birthday, I got it: not a whole hell of a lot of time left.

When I say that to Chris, he gets all defensive and hyper-rational. Says things like, “yeah yeah, you’ll drop dead tomorrow.” “No,” I say. “I don’t think I’ll die tomorrow, just sooner than I want to.”

My father was 77, my mother was 74. I am healthier than they were. I don’t smoke. I exercise. Will that allow me to avoid the strokes that my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all suffered?

I always imagined, when I was in my 20’s, that I would die, at 84, falling off my motorcycle on a mountain road. I haven’t owned a motorcycle since my first child was born. I’d had one crash and after that, couldn’t ride without awareness of my vulnerability. When I had my daughter, I didn’t think it was fair for me to take that kind of risk any more. I kind of miss my little Honda 90. Was it a 90? I think it was. Its predecessor was a Honda 50, a slow old thing that, when I was 22 and had never owned a car, opened up worlds for me.

Back to death. Yes. Back to death. I had a brush with it when I was 42, a major flare-up of an auto-immune disease I didn’t, before then, know I had. After that, life was different. Everything was different and nothing was different. I mean, I was vividly aware of my mortality and of how much I wanted to stay alive. For months after I was discharged, following many weeks in the hospital, I experienced the world through a bubble of heightened senses, everything glowing and glittery and inexpressibly precious. Then, it faded. Of course, it faded; things that wake you up to the utter wonderfulness of being alive always fade. Routines settle back in. I went back to my habit of writing to-do lists that would choke a cow. Back to my pattern of going to bed each night with my head abuzz with what I hadn’t yet accomplished and must get to tomorrow. Now and then, I would remember. Then 5 years later, when I had flare-up number 2 and once again did not die, I thought I would never ever stop feeling grateful for yet another reprieve.

But I did stop. I do stop. None of us is alive and awake all the time, I guess. Would I want to be? Maybe not. It’s a bit painful.

In the past few years, several of my friends have been diagnosed with cancer and are out of the immediate – but not the long-term – woods. One friend died of Lou Gehrig’s disease 10 years ago. My golden retriever died the same year as my father (1995). My favorite therapy teacher, Dick, died that year, too. How did all these vital parts of my life stop being here, taking up time and space? They were here. Now they are not. How can that be? Not even a jagged hole in the air left from where they used to be.

So when I say I’m beginning to accept the notion that I will one day, sooner rather than later, die, I am whistling in the wind. I have moments here and there where I kind of get it and then it’s gone. And I’m left with the delusion that I have all the time in the world, until I think about it. I do not have all the time. I don’t like it that I don’t have more time.

Three years ago, I pretended to have only one year left. I followed a guide by Stephen Levine, did meditations on the subject, wrote about it, kept notes, but eventually, it all felt like a sham. I knew, the whole time, that I wasn’t going to die at the end of that year. I was pretty sure.

And I realized that, if it were true, if in fact I knew for sure I had only a year, what I would do was… nothing out of the ordinary. I would do the dishes, walk the dogs, fold the laundry, sit at my kitchen table and watch the finches flock to my bird feeders. I would choose to be alone. I would choose only those I love best to be with me. I would go to the grocery store. Maybe I would clean up my files so none of my writing would be inaccessible to my daughter (who is named in my will as the trustee for my writing.) I would go on as usual as long as I could, wanting the familiar, wanting to savor, wanting to bequeath, but quietly.

I know that at 63 my remaining vibrant years are dwindling. So what do I do? I make a commitment to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with my 23 year old son next spring. Why not? There will never be a better time.

I have no grip on this at all. I think it’s a horrible terrible thing to do to people, get them all juiced up on life and then slowly – or all at once – take everything away. Not fair. I wish I could opt out. Of death. Of the many losses of aging.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Judith Ford joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Teri Blair

15 minutes into the grief group I knew it was a mistake. There were still two hours to go, and the stranglehold around my neck was suffocating. It had been, as every attempt had been, an honest effort at finding my way around my father’s death. When he was alive, I thought something would change when he died. It hadn’t. It was all still there.

The grief group leader was hired by the funeral home. A funeral home that was part of a chain in the metropolitan area. He began by telling the group his pedigree. I thought this was to assure us he hadn’t just fallen off the turnip cart. He was a professional with twenty years of grief group experience. We could relax now. In his good hands.

But by the fifteen-minute mark, I saw he didn’t know how to establish boundaries for the group. He didn’t set any for himself nor anyone else. When he told us in flourishing detail how he would be buried in a purple casket, wearing a bathrobe and holding a martini, we had to listen. He needed us to laugh and think he was crazy. Outrageous. When the 70-something woman kept interrupting to loudly wail and moan about her 93-year-old mother “she never thought could die,” when one of the others began openly to flirt with the leader…. when all these things happened within 15 minutes I knew it was a mistake.

I looked at the door, wondering if I could bolt. Then he called me out by name. He knew it because of the name tag I wore. He said I must have a question for him, and that I could ask him anything. I thought There is nothing on God’s green earth you can tell me or show me or answer for me. When I said I didn’t have any questions for him yet, he could see in my face I wasn’t going to fall in line with all the other success stories of people he had helped over the course of 20 years. He turned ever-so-slightly hostile and said to me, in front of the group, that some people just aren’t ready to do the difficult work of grief.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Teri Blair joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Bob Chrisman

An old friend called on her way back home from a weekend with her partner, son, and grandson. “I have some bad news and some good news. Which do you want to hear first?”

“Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Maybe the good news will soften the bad.”

“I didn’t expect you to say that. Here goes. The doctor found that I have endometrial cancer, undifferentiated. They have caught it at a very early stage.”

I stopped listening to her for awhile. The “C” word causes my stomach to clinch and the muscles in my neck to tighten. I’ve heard it too often in conversations with my women friends. Lost two of them to aggressive tumors that spread throughout their bodies.

But I focus too much on the losses and not on the wins. A friend diagnosed with breast cancer has remained cancer-free for 12 years. Other women have recovered completely from cancer of various organs. I’m thankful for those successes, very grateful.

My mind returns to the recurrences I’ve seen. A woman twelve years post treatment for a brain tumor has learned within the last two weeks that her cancer has returned. This time the doctor said she will die, but that’s what he said the last time and she lived for another twelve years.

Why all this focus on death at a time of year when the world screams with life and beauty? Why must death occur during these spring months when the earth bursts forth in new life and beautiful shades of yellow-green, when flowers of all colors open and scent the air, and when we can say, “Winter is gone for at least seven months”? Why?

Maybe all this life and beauty replaces the darkness and depression of the winter and I want no more of it. Give me life in all of its forms and beauty. I suffer enough during the winter and I’m over it, but I’m not, it seems.

I notice the beauty and revel in it because I know the bleakness of winter. Joy returns to my life because I know that the good times may not last forever. The friends I carry in my heart as the treasures of a lifetime will die. I must rejoice in their being while they are with me and not put that off for a change in the season or the approach of death.

How is it that the richness of life requires us to know the poverty of despairing times? Does it work like salt on cantaloup or watermelon? The saltiness makes the sweetness that much sweeter as death makes life more precious.

If I could stop death and dying, would I? No, I would let things happen as they must. I might even bring death to those I love earlier if they desired it, but that’s not my place in life. Sitting next to the bedside of a friend who’s dying makes me aware of the value of the time we had together and what a loss their death will be. If they must die (and they must), I can spend the final days and hours with them and carry them and those times in my heart until I pass from this earth.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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