yellowstone

No one warned me the park reeked of rotten eggs combined with the scent of bright pine. Rivers boiled, firmament steamed, golden mud perked, colorful algae glowed and streams dramatically plunged in this belching landscape. Clouds cleaved the mountains and glistening river valleys provided tasty habitat for wildlife. I craved deviled eggs the entire trip.

oldfaithful
Aren’t you smart?! It IS Old Faithful with Old Faithful Lodge in the background. We walked a very isolated trail up a mountainside to get this view. Worth it….even though we forgot our bear spray and I chirped ‘Hey, bear!’ as we walked to frighten away predators. The Texan was not amused. This Lower Geyser basin is brimming with geysers for miles.

robingrottoI had to look up the term ‘caldera’ to be sure I understood the grand views are perched atop a  volcano with an enormous, active magma chamber below. If it blows, like it did 600,000 years ago, it will affect most of the United States and change life as we know it. This is climate change I can understand.

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Norris Geyser Basin. The hottest springs and fumaroles in the Park. Rudyard Kipling remarked after his visit, “The uplands of Hell. It was as though the tide of desolation had gone out….a mud volcano spat filth to Heaven, streams of hot water rumbled underfoot….pink pools roared, shouted, bubbled or hissed as their wicked fancies prompted.”

The geyser/fumaroles/hot spring areas provided endless fascination to us. The angry earth grumbled, fumed and sputtered. Amidst the tantrums, we discovered visions and colors of indescribable beauty and tranquility.

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The fantastic colors as they appeared to us. No color boosting…..promise.

Mud was the artist’s pallet for the putrid water.

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The sulphuric steam wafting from the hot features can permanently damage a camera lens. I was told to keep the lens cap on and to always wipe the lens after taking pictures of these features.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Great Falls are crowd favorites.

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The Yellowstone River before it spills over the Lower Falls.

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Thomas Moran, the first artist to explore the Yellowstone, bemoaned his palette didn’t contain enough colors to render this scene.

I donned a sling to support my jaw. The constant gaping provided a fine mosquito and gnat habitat. I can’t help myself…..I’m a passionate, romantic person. There’s no way I can gaze upon these scenes and pronounce, ‘Meh.’

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The grand and the small astonished me. The wildlife roamed and rambled and I tried to follow the wonder with my borrowed spotting scope.

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Just a photo taken through the windshield with a cellphone. The Lamar Valley was soul-stirring. It was my favorite portion of the Park. I’m planning my next trip back there.

There’s definitely a crowding issue at Yellowstone that must be addressed in a fair manner. I don’t know the answer, but the current influx of people doesn’t seem sustainable to me. That’s a discussion for another blog post. The Texan and I navigated by getting up EARLY….very early, and staying through sunset. Most mid-days we lunched by a stream with our lawn chairs or took a drive off the beaten path. The Park is very crowded between 10 am and 4 pm.

 

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Buffalo are a favorite. The Europeans and Asians want to see buffalo….the iconic symbol of the West. The shaggy giants never disappoint as they appear everywhere around the park. I can still conjure their low-pitched grumbling.

Yellowstone made me feel small…like a pimple on the butt of the universe. Ok….maybe not a pimple, but certainly a freckle on the tapestry of time. Where was I when forces were forming the landscape 1,200,000 years ago? What of the Native Peoples who inhabited this land? What of the explorers and early trappers who tried to describe the indescribable to others? For me, our Yellowstone visit highlighted the infinite creativity of the Creator. I’m thrilled to witness the handiwork.

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Taken with cell phone attached to a spotting scope mounted on a tripod. Thanks Drummond! I’ll return your scope soon!!

The morning we left the park, I whined to the Texan I had not seen a grizzly bear. I’ve witnessed black bears, but I longed to see a grizzly. How totally complete and awesome would this trip be if I could spot a grizzly? We scouted around the morning we left, looking at likely spots by the Yellowstone River for wildlife. Just then, we drove upon some ‘scopers’ who were looking at an elk carcass. We rolled the window down in time to hear, ‘the grizzly is coming!’ We shot out of the car in different directions. I grabbed the binoculars and spied an elk herd upstream in the river. As I panned the binoculars, I spotted the hump-backed, powerful beast. He swam the river and was now determinedly loping across the meadow toward something. I feared he might be loping in my direction until I spotted the carcass. The Texan and I found each other and excitedly attached my phone to the scope.

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We observed this guy for an hour as he devoured this decomposing carcass. I’m happy I didn’t unexpectedly meet him in the forest. Trip made and complete.

If you are reading this, you are either a rabid nature-lover or you are completely bored on a Friday evening. Welcome to my world!

Hope these views inspire you. I want to show you Arches National Park in Moab, Utah in the coming days.

Did Thoreau ever see Yellowstone? ‘This Mother of ours…..lying around in all her beauty.’

Hope you see something wonderful this weekend! Spouting geysers of love to all!

 

 

zapata

Be ever so little distracted, your thoughts so little confused, your engagements so few, your attention so free, your existence so mundane, that in all places and in all hours you can hear the sound of crickets in those seasons when they are to be heard-Thoreau

 

kathyongrater
Photo courtesy of Page Steed. Check out her website. You will enjoy her wildlife photography and unique vision.

The crisp chirp of crickets, the low grunt of buffalo, the impatient neigh of horses, the trickling rivulets of water and sand, and blessed laughter; I gratefully heard them all last week while attending the Zapata Ranch Workshop: Women, Horses and the West.

We rode in the morning and discussed literature in the afternoon.

 

riding out
Photo courtesy Page Steed. My mount was Merlin. Slowest horse in the West. He deserves his own chapter. Maybe another day.

Thoreau jump-started our week by helping us adjust our sight as he described ‘Simply Seeing’.

 

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Not so luxurious a soil as to attract men-H.D.T.

 

 

Author Dan Flores proclaimed the Plains are the American Serengeti. He explained how the Plains are ‘a sensuous feast of the minimal’ and how loving the grasslands is embedded in our DNA.

 

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Sunset in the San Luis Valley, Colorado

 

Dr. Bonney MacDonald, Professor of English at West Texas A&M university led our lively afternoon discussions. Bonney is brimming with contagious energy and passion and she had me reading and studying like crazy. If you ever have a chance to hear her speak, you must take it. I love her.

 

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Bonney preparing to ride.

It was a special joy to spend the day….beginning at 4:45 am!….with photographer/geologist Stephen Weaver.

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I learned I have a nice camera, but I don’t know how to use it. I made terrible mistakes with my photography this day and lost many a fun capture. I felt like an idiot even though Stephen was unfailingly encouraging. Learning is hard. Guess who will forever check her white balance setting before she shoots another photo?

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Mostly my pony and I sauntered behind the main group. Merlin wore a comforting, plodding cadence and I wore my appreciative grin.

 

Kathy
Photo courtesy of Page Steed

 

There was always an experienced wrangler nearby, just in case someone made a newbie mistake or needed help retrieving lunch from the saddlebag.

 

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The wranglers. Aren’t they gorgeous? Each and every one extraordinarily smart and gracious. Thank you!

My favorite and most lasting memory of the trip? Well, that would have to be the ladies in attendance! To describe them as professors, music teachers, caregivers, corporate-types, photographers, volunteers and healers somehow fails to summarize their sweeping personalities and spacious hearts. Conversation is a lost art these days. We’re too concerned with being right. Zapata’s legacy for 2017 is the expansion of my mind. Some days it felt as wide and bright as the sky.

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Is it possible my sight was adjusted? Even with the nagging problems with my eyes, was I noticing more?

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What am I hearing/seeing now? A certain gray-muzzled wiener dog impatiently dropping the tennis ball at my feet, the greeting neighs of the-best-old-lady-horse-in-the-world, the Texan watching old Star Trek episodes, and the grands giggling over hauling a perch out of the lake.

Oh, Thoreau! Here’s to fewer distractions, confusions and engagements. Here, here to an uncluttered mind and the blessing of a mundane existence! I’m raising my glass to the sound of crickets. Cheers, everyone. Thanks for reading.

Headin’-west love to all.

chairwithboots

Puddles Pity Party

Do you ever watch America’s Got Talent? After a particularly trying day…a day in which I struggled with pain, doctor’s offices, medications, my freakin’ eyes and ever-changing vision, I lumbered exhaustedly into my awaiting, comfy bed and mindlessly flipped on the boob tube. Didn’t matter what was on. I was done. Calgon take me away.

Suddenly, but slowly HE shuffled on stage.

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With shoulders stooped and a wrinkly-unkempt costume, this mute clown act was a sure-fire candidate for the giant X-buzzer. “Good luck, Puddles!”

The controlled baritone began quietly. I immediately recognized he was singing the Sia song, Chandelier. I knowingly chuckled and mocked the television from the fluffy bed.

It’s been DONE, Puddles! This song is cliché!

Can’t feel anything, when will I learn. I push it down, push it down

Ok, maybe this sad clown can sing a little. So what?!

1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 drink. 1, 2, 3, 1 ,2 ,3 drink

Hey Puddles! Why don’t you bring me a stiff drink about now? Ready to forget the day I just experienced.

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandel-LIER!!

I’m feeling your pain, Puddles. You’re so pitifully glum and your full-throated and melancholy baritone ain’t bad.

I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry.

Where’s the Kleenex? Where is it!?

I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist…..cause I’m just holding on for tonight.

Damn you, Puddles!! This ugly cry is on YOU!!

You probably know the end of this story. He received 4 ‘yesses’ from the judges and the crowd adored him. Of all the spectacular acts appearing on AGT…..death-defying stuntmen….leaving-you-breathless magic acts…..auditorium-filling opera voices…..why did folks respond to Puddles? Why did cynical-I like Puddles?

Because some days are hard. Some days are sad. I’m not clinically depressed. I’m counting my blessings. I’m staying on the sunny side. I have lots of fun things on my plate. I have a fantastic family and wonderful friends. But some days, when I’m struggling for relief from this stupid disease (It’s called Sjogren’s Syndrome, and it’s ridiculous), when I feel my own body betraying me, when the meds aren’t relieving the pain, when I feel the mist from this fearfully-approaching, slow-rolling disaster of a tsunami…..these are the days I totally relate to Puddles.

It’s OK to have a sad day. You have them, too. Went to a funeral yesterday and was struck by the lyric, ‘Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down…but still my soul is heavenly bound’. It was a terrible day for my friends. God bless them.

Hope your weekend is brimming with fun and glad things. But, maybe that’s not your reality today. That’s OK. I get it and so does Puddles.

Heavenly-bound love to all.

P.S.-I’m preparing for a grand adventure. Something amazing that God just threw in my lap. I’m a chronic over-sharer so get ready for some blogs describing my journey. Info to follow soon. xo

sculptor

Discovered my inspiration this week. I’ve admired this piece for a few days now.

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art-it’s what’s for dinner

Perhaps I love it because Sprout #3 made it on his lathe and gifted it to me. Plenty reason enough!

 

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the wood chips are a-flyin’

 

Maybe I love it because it’s simply beautiful. Each of the bowls’ perfect imperfections combines to make it singularly unique. I’m mesmerized by the yin of the smooth wood and the yang of the rugged, rough-bark edge.

The Sprout explained each block of wood is called a blank. He mounts the blank, sets the lathe to spinning and patiently applies his trusty bowl gouge-and voila!….a bowl is born. Although the bowl has entered existence, it must undergo certain time-consuming steps to becoming its best bowl-self. It must dry and cure in wood shavings. The wood needs to cure, but not too rapidly, to prevent future cracking. After it has dried for some time (months), the woodworker must diligently sand, apply sealer, sand, apply sealer, sand and….well, you get it. This entire process reminds me of the Michelangelo quote:

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My life spins like that wood block on the lathe lately. Events happen and I don’t comprehend. Enough with applying the bowl gouge already, ok? It’s painful and I’m not privy to the intricacies of the process. I didn’t attend woodworking school. The wood chips are swirling. Some days I want to jump off that lathe and return to my previous carefree tree-self. Is this my drying out phase so I don’t split later, or is this the sanding and re-sanding part? I don’t know.

I do know these struggles are not unique to me. We ALL have ’em. For me right now it’s health issues but your struggle might be your broken relationship with your parents or children, your spouse’s alcoholism, your sexuality, a cancer diagnosis, your depression, your lonely empty nest, your dead-end job, your failing marriage, your barely making it from paycheck to paycheck, your PTSD, or the unexpected death of someone dear to you. It could be a crisis of faith.

I adore this bowl because it reminds me of the Master Sculptor. I’ve put my life in the hands of the Wise Woodworker. The Brilliant Bowl Maker. The Lord of the Lathe….enough alliteration…I can’t stop myself! However clumsily I phrase it, I trust the process of becoming and I’m assured my life is in loving hands. One day I’m going to be a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind bowl! Yessir! A bowl with rings closely spaced to indicate I stood proudly during the tough, drought-y years. A bowl with widely-spaced rings to testify I raised a glass to the wet and bountiful years. A bowl large enough to hold a lot of cool things.

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Today I’ve been looking up.

 

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photo-public-domain.com

 

Here’s a reminder on my desk. Do you ever feel like you need Cliffs Notes for daily life??

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You are becoming quite a handsome bowl, in my opinion. Yes….you’re looking more and more like ART to me. I like that.

The bowl with the rough edges? Yeah….it’s me. How’d you guess?!

Lumber-y love to all.

 

 

 

 

 

crying time

 

To everything there is a season…..Ecclesiastes 3

This has been a devastating and crushing week for the Texas Panhandle. The fires of Monday feel a lifetime ago. Today dawned appropriately gray and windy. Yesterday was a glorious, blue-sky, sound-the-trumpets kind of day and it felt like a mocking slap after the glum news of the week. How could the day of the first funeral of one of our beloved fire victims be so glorious after the relentless winds and scorching heat of Monday? Joke’s on us, I guess. This feels like a mourning day to me.

Had to put down the grandkid’s pony yesterday. Peanut had a condition affecting her feet and I watched her be dead-lame for over a week. As a conscientious caregiver of animals, it was my responsibility and my call to make. No one else could make the decision for me. On Wednesday night, I knew it was time. My bedrock Sprout #1 helped me with all the details. I love him for dealing with me through this. I know….I know, it’s not a huge deal in the scheme of things and especially in the context of the tremendous losses this week. It’s just a tiny drop of sadness in a river of grief. I realize that. I’m glad God made a mini paint horse named Peanut who delighted in all the littles. So, I’m taking today to let my tiny grief-drop flow to the ocean.

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Many of you know I’ve been dealing with a giant mound of health issues in the last few years. I don’t have cancer….and boy am I grateful!….but I’ve had repeated issues of one form or another. I’ve felt crazy, morally and physically weak, exhausted and confused. Just when it seemed I stomped out one health fire, another would flare-up and char my resolve. Oh…and I’ve visited doctors and specialists from all over the state of Texas. I’m grateful for physicians too, even though they can be infuriating. My medicine cabinet is stuffed and overflowing with the drugs and supplements supposedly helping me. Yesterday after visiting with my rheumatologist, I finally have a name for what ails me. Maybe I’m not crazy after all? I won’t say the name of it….you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s an auto-immune disease. My confused immune system is loaded with ballistic missiles and targeting healthy areas of my body for battle.  My favorite celebrity sports hero now is Venus Williams because she has this disease, as well. Looks like she’s doing pretty great lately, doesn’t it? Gives me hope. So today since it’s okay to mourn a little, I’m taking the time to grieve the loss of the person who didn’t have to take multitudinous pills. The redhead with endless energy whose joints didn’t ache. She was cool and I miss her today. I’ll empty my coffee cup of sadness into the river and let it unite with the Peanut-drop.

The Panhandle of Texas is a flighty and sometimes cruel mistress. We suffer under the illusion we’ve tamed her. The events of this week prove otherwise. All of us in agriculture/ranching realize those who perished could be our sons, daughters, fathers, mothers….you name it. We know the reality of caring for livestock, of diving in head first to help our neighbor and the price of replacing burnt fence. We choose to live here. We’re the insanely hardy offspring of the Dustbowlers! We’re certain better days are ahead. The rains will fall, the grass will sprout, the wind will settle and the content momma cows will have lots of babies. This attitude is embedded in our DNA.

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Today I’m allowing myself to shake my fist at the sky, to curse the wind and crumble to my knees and ask why so many animals and salt-of-the-earth people must suffer. Why children must grow up without a daddy, or why parents have to bury their children. It’s my designated sorrow-day, so I’ll take my biggest soup-pot of grief and tears for all of this ridiculous suffering and stir it a bit. When it feels right, I’m pouring it in with the Peanut-drop and the coffee cup of sadness and watching it bob and swirl away.

It’s okay. It’s our crying time and we’ve earned it. Don’t worry, we won’t camp there. We know better. I’m inviting God into our ashy brokenness.  He’s already here with us anyway. If I see you out and about today, don’t hide your watery eyes. Mine feel watery, too.

Strong Panhandle-love to all.

new glasses for Lent

Had an eye exam a few days ago. Got me contemplating having new specs. Mine sit askew on my face and they drive me crazy (I hear you….short drive! har). I poured through a popular eyeglass website to find the perfect pair. A pair that would project my superior intellect, but not hubris. One that could project my quirky sense of style, yet still earn me respect. A style screaming, “I’m with-it-and-not-old” without my seeming to try too hard.

Here’s my cures-what-ails-you, impossibly chic, older-person choices.

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Attended Ash Wednesday service last evening. The topic of Lent spurred my thinking, “What should I give up/add during Lent to properly prepare my heart for Easter?”

I need modern Lenten glasses. A new super-duper powerful x-ray pair that can laser into my heart and sift my motives. I donned a cool pair possessing the special power and nervously explored.

Do I need to cease consuming ice cream, carbs, doughnuts or chocolate? No…that doesn’t feel right for me. For others maybe that may be the large E on the eye chart, but luckily food is not an issue for me.

Do I need to give up TV, the interwebs or the cell phone in order to be more productive and commune with God? It might be the best thing for some, but the chart still appears fuzzy when it comes to going cold-turkey with the electronic devices. I could spend LESS time and life might be better, but it misses the mark for me as a giant issue.

Liquor…..what about liquor??! Nope, still out of focus….that’s not it either. Giving up one drink a week doesn’t seem like sacrificial service.

I peered deeply through my magic glasses. What is it? What character trait could I give up on my way to becoming? Becoming more me, more like Him?

The x-ray lenses shifted and I finally spied it! Two things I can give up, throw out, wad up with the stinky trash and say “sayonara suckers!” Two items I clutch like a grimy security blanket. Two things I pick up over and over again when I shouldn’t, even though my fingerprints are burned invisible from repeatedly picking up this bitter-hot casserole dish.

What do my special-wizard Lenten glasses reveal I’d be better without? Negativity and regret.

Negativity can be my first and most familiar reaction. I understand the ‘whys’ but I need to stop. It’s OK to not always contemplate the worst-case scenario. I think I’ll let someone else handle that for a while. Whew. Focus on the fun things like grandkids, golf, tennis and wiener dogs. The blessings of my friends and family.

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Oh…and Mr. Regret. What have you ever done for me? What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’. Huh…listen to me! Good God, y’all!! Oh wait….those are the lyrics to Edwin Starr’s rock ballad, ‘War’. Sorry, my bad.

Life’s a struggle. It’s wonderful and kooky and surprising….but a struggle. I know so many hurting right now. I hurt, too. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

I leave you with a song we practiced in choir last night. It sums up how I’m feeling today. I hope you like it. If you want to listen, check it out on YouTube.

Jesus draw me ever nearer as I labor thro’ the storm. You have called me to this passage and I’ll follow tho’ I’m worn

May this journey be a blessing, may I rise on wings of faith. And at the end of my heart’s testing, with your likeness let me wake

Jesus guide me thro’ the tempest, keep my spirit staid and sure. When the midnight meets the morning, let me love you even more

Let the treasures of the trial form within me as I go. And at the end of this long passage, let me leave them at your throne.

Hip-spectacle love to all.