Cleanse ye your eyes, so that ye behold no man as different from yourselves…. See ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness. ~Baha'i
Before going outside this very warm, brilliantly blue afternoon I looked at photos of an Achemon month. The creature emerged from its chrysalis near some wooden dowels in the courtyard of my previous home. Creeping up the dowels, it clung for several hours, pumping up its wings. Eventually they measured nearly four inches across.
It, and its descendants, feasted on poinciana flowers close to the courtyard. This happened in July, 2008.
Nothing like this velvety moth has appeared at my home of the past six years. Feeling a bit nostalgic for the many lovely flowers, birds and butterflies — along with the occasional fascinating insect — at my South Valley place, I raked dead leaves out of equally brown grass for a while, then put my feet up to take stock of plum blossoms swelling up nearby, the glossy condition of needles on a backyard ponderosa which is fighting off a bark beetle infestation. With the help of way more watering than I ever thought I’d be giving a large tree in the desert.
Meditating a while, I opened my eyes and there was a small miracle, dancing in and out of tree limbs high above. Too tiny to identify from my distance, they were brilliant hairstreak-sized butterflies, come to show off spring’s orange amidst the infinite shades of desert brown. For about five seconds, weaving in and out of the light amongst the great trees.
Twin wee orange shapes
wings fluttery, buttery
twinkling with the sun
While there was no time for a photo, here is a picture of Elf the Corgi a couple of summers ago, nosing agastache flowers where she Just Knew There Was A Butterfly. Somewhere.
The changeable weather typical of early spring in the middle of New Mexico of late reminds me of the confusing alterations in life that tossed me this way and that during the several years of my childhood between major hospitalizations. To me living in a spacious western state is as far as it was convenient to get from the crowded environment of the east coast where the polio forced itself on me and my family.
With mighty whoops of glee Elf and Opus, the dogs of today, have flown in and out of their small dog door in the laundry room for the past ten days. It has been warm enough to coax early buds onto bare tree limbs and entice a few bees to buzz around as though there were some place to go.
Then yesterday, back to colder temperatures, higher winds, a bit of blowing snow. People coming and going to see our home, which is for sale … Dogs zonked out on their soft beds, snoring noticeably.
The first year or two after Children’s Hospital released me, a recent paraplegic, into the big world of people with “normal” legs and effortless ambulation were not emotionally painful. The family support team was strong and capable, eager to further my efforts to get around as though not much had happened to me. The few people who didn’t know what exactly polio was — and so feared my presence amongst them — were eventually brought around to grokking the lack of risk a polio survivor like me was to their children in school.
My big challenges involved working out ways to get around, driven as I was to go on doing the things I loved and paralysis be … overlooked.
Lest anyone think that I and my family were out of kilter in striving to reduce the importance of major paralysis, I should point out that in the mid 1950s polio survivors often were pushed by medical people urging families and patients to keep on going, with the goal of living a fulfilling and capable life. Over six decades later it is apparent that a great many of us did, in fact, become pretty tough. Just possibly this was the best thing (after keeping us alive) to come out of the medical system of those days.
This approach had the advantage of drawing all sorts of good people with skills into creative adaptations that helped us get around, long before the days when health insurance stepped in to take over so many aspects of life.
Several helpful events supported my return to the regular world:
—A carpenter friend of my mother’s built a small set of stairs, with railings, on top on the front porch steps, so I could whiz in and out of the house effortlessly.
—A wealthy great aunt passed on, leaving my mother with some English antiques and enough funds to buy a lovely new four-door Buick, in which I, riding in the back seat where I did not get carsick, felt like the new, young Queen of England when my mother drove me to school, friends’ houses, Campfire Girls meetings and for swims in local ponds. The distribution of Dr. Jonas Salk’s new polio vaccine less than a year after my illness was just beginning to quell summer polio epidemics. People were back to fresh water swimming in droves, which wasn’t really wise. In 1955 there came yet another polio epidemic, which struck a little girl down the street from us. From what I later heard, that girl never emerged from institutions.
—The same great aunt’s bequest enabled my mother to remodel a downstairs pantry into a bathroom, which made a huge difference to me. Since I had grown too big to be carried upstairs to the bathroom a few times a day, somebody had gifted us with an old fashioned bedside commode. I loathed it as an emblem of my non-normal state.
I had adopted the lifestyle encouraged by my old Children’s Hospital doctor, Fuzzy Wuzzy. AKA Dr. David Grice. He insisted to my mother that the fewest possible number of special adaptations would get me to “back to normal-as-can-be life” as fast as possible.
That thinking caused me denial of a wheelchair, so anytime I needed to move around when I didn’t have my leg braces on I had to stick my feet awkwardly into the shoes attached to the bottoms of the long braces, tie the shoes, then to do up a dozen leather straps before I could “jump up” and get to wherever I wanted to be.
That taught me the value of advance planning. I liked my braces very well for giving me back the ability to walk, yet they were uncomfortable, pinchy things that were hot in summer and icy cold in winter. Sometimes they rubbed my skin raw. It was nice to shuck them off to sit in the grass or on a soft carpet by a fire.
Fuzzy Wuzzy was right about a lot of things — I did grow up tough and determined to be myself in a strange, strange world that did not always welcome me. But he was dead wrong about one thing — it is not a good idea to walk around on your crutches and braces with your head held high at all times. That proud head and all that is attached below tend to end up flat on the ground when you don’t keep an eye on potential hazards down below. Slippery things like water or grease, cellophane or talcum powder on a floor, ice and holes in the ground outdoors were responsible for way too many concussions, among lesser injuries.
—My parents had my IQ tested for whatever reason that seemed necessary. They were a bit awed by the result. Then, concerned that I would puff up about it, they began alluding to people with impossibly vast brain power. Like Einstein.
—Feeling a bit more empowered to exercise my wits, nevertheless, I finessed my brother and his friends to help me back into the world of outdoor adventure. The first winter after my return home we had lots of snow and for Christmas Donny and I got a round metal, saucer shaped sled alternative called a Doodly Hoop. The boys were persuaded to haul me in that up the hill behind our house, Then to give me a flying shove down the slope — a big thrill for my newly slowed down self. Till the day I crashed into cedar tree, hurting a finger and breaking in half the stone in a special ring my mother let me wear.
Less exciting was the necessity of fairness, to disembark and sit in the cold snow while the boys took their turns. There were more of them than there was of me, so a cold backside got to be the normal thing when we went sliding. It was well worth it, though.
That thrill of slippery DH rides took a bit of a blow one icy evening when the boys agreed to haul me down the street so we could watch the moon rise. Our country road had so little traffic that we hadn’t thought it necessary to mention our plans to any parents. Off we walked and slid, pausing now and then to eat left over Halloween candy we’d stuffed into our pockets.
About the same time that my hands and feet were beginning to feel really, really cold — I was separated from the snow and ice by nothing but a thin sheet of curved aluminum — we heard the distant rumble of a car coming around a bend.
My willing haulers held a conference amongst themselves before unanimously voting to obey that useful parental rule about not standing in the middle of the street when there were cars around. Off they shot — leaving me sitting, in my dark coat and hat, in the DH, pretty much where the line would have been painted in the middle of the street, which was too narrow to merit a line.
The sun was well down as I watched the big grill coming closer and closer. So cold had I grown that it was difficult to get my arms up and waving, but eventually I did, the driver spotted the animated dark splotch against the white snow, got out and pulled me and the DH back to my house.
Once inside my mother subjected my frostbitten hands and feet to a soaking in cold water. It felt like fire. Meanwhile, into my psyche she burned every word of a ferocious lecture about not going anywhere near the road in a Doodly Hoop ever again. This, I thought, was pretty odd coming from her, who as a child with her two daredevil brothers used to sled down a steep hill in front of their home. That was fine till the hill ended and the road began. Along that road one day she and her sled shot straight beneath the wheels of a car, causing considerable ankle damage. In some maternal concern about not filling me with fears, I don’t believe she’d ever mentioned that part of the story before.
The second half of the “free” time I had between hospitalizations got me more away from home and into the sparsely populated community around us.
There were the second and third grades, where the only really difficult work was getting up from my desk fast enough to say the Pledge of Allegiance with the rest of the class each morning. For the fourth grade I was present for just a couple of fall months before fate whisked me off for horrible encounters of the doctor kind, which is a different story.
Donny and I were allowed to invite a friend each for a trip to Boston, where we saw a movie that I have forgotten, apart from its strangely brilliant, distorted colors, walked around the downtown and Chinatown areas, and ended up eating the first pizza we’d encountered. In Chinatown. I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever tasted — except turnip — but the disappointment was tempered by the pleasure of having actually walked so far earlier without wearing out.
Back at home I began visiting my great aunt and uncle, a fairly short walk away along a busy highway. Mainly, besides Auntie’s home made cream puffs and her lessons on separating cream from fresh milk, I loved hanging out in their large barn, watching draft horses come in after their day of hauling logs from forest to the sawmill my great uncle owned.
I loved those gigantic creatures. They moved slowly and deliberately, went sensibly into their stalls after pausing for deep drinks at the water trough, and then began munching, with satisfactory sounds, on hay filling the mangers in each stall. When nobody but Donny was looking I would try to sneak inside a stall till this was discovered by a stablehand. He pitched a fit about how a horse had the habit of leaning his hip against the wall and if I was standing by him there’d be nothing left of me but a messy pancake.
I sniffled for about two seconds — then beamed radiantly, to be scolded like that. For once an adult was treating me like any seven year old kid with a penchant for acting first and thinking later.
Being around the work horses soon made me want to try riding one. Even without the leg braces the idea would have been ludicrous for anyone of my size, but my resourceful mother, who had been a horse woman herself, befriended a neighbor who raised standardbreds for harness racing. Leo Boyle and his wife had daughters close to Donny’s and my ages, and it was not long before we were attending one another’s birthday parties.
For Halloween the year when I was eight the Boyle family had a party where we bobbed for apples, wore bizarre homemade costumes that generally required further information in order to be recognized, and then, wonderfully, were all invited outside to where a pony stood saddled, western, ready to give us rides.
“You, too, Emmy,” they told me. Beside that magnificent being, the pony, I stood up as straight as I could, longing to be in that beautifully tooled western saddle just like Dale Evans on television. Up I was hoisted by Mr. Boyle, very, very carefully. Perched in the saddle, feeling as though I’d ascended a mountain instead of a little pony, I breathed in the scents of the animal and leather polish.
I didn’t particularly notice that I was listing to one side. My mind squawked at me to squeeze with my legs, but the legs weren’t paying attention. The saddle horn helped, but still I slid.
Happily, Mr. Boyle held onto me, and off that horse of my dreams I was pulled.
Soon my sketching began to feature horses equipped with the kind of howdah that elephants carry people around in. This was the product of me, daydreaming, not with the idea that anyone would ever act on it.
Thus I was not disappointed when my mother did not pursue my idea. Something else was on her mind by the time she found my sketches.
She had become deeply depressed, my poor mother, by the apparent suicide of her own mother, to whom she referred, all her life, as “the best person I’ve ever known”. After mentioning to someone offhandedly that she did not want to be a burden to her family in her old age, Grammie ran in front of a car one night.
As that happened my brother and I were sleeping soundly in our downstairs bedrooms. Upstairs, our mother sat up in bed to find herself singing the Star Spangled Banner. Since she was not particularly patriotic, and never could sing, the strangeness of the urge to do this rather struck her. She did it anyhow. Then she remembered just having a dream in which the Shrine of the Bab, a major Baha’i memorial in Haifa, Israel, slowly turned upside down.
A few minutes after she stopped singing people came to tell her that her mother was dead. Her beloved mother, whom she had supported for some years after my grandfather — an aristocratic dreamer who felt working for a living was beneath him — divorced her in favor of younger women. Her mother, tiny in stature, large in personality, a woman who never seemed to look on the dark side of life, a suicide.
Families have times of being shaken up completely, and this began one of those periods for us. We kids didn’t know it, but our parents had begun arguing after Grammy’s death, as my mother resented that my father, whose family home we had moved into, did not want her mother to live with us. Instead, my Uncle George had built her a beautiful little pine cabin behind his home a quarter mile from us.
Grammy seemed happy there, frequently entertaining visitors from far and wide. She traveled to Wilmette, Illinois to visit the beautiful Baha’i Temple on the shores of Lake Michigan, stopping here and there to visit old friends. At home she made and sold loaves of whole wheat bread as part of her life long drive to encourage people to eat healthy food, and took care of us a few times a week to relieve Mother. Besides belonging to something called the Eastern States Farmers Exchange, she joined the local Grange and, as a retired public health nurse, frequently visited ailing people in their homes. So it was a shock in the family that she was considering herself to be a potential burden.
Her death at the age of 78 was the event in our collective lives that at last overshadowed my polio, for which I found myself somewhat relieved.
For a very short time.
My mother, under strains I could not begin to understand then, may have simply decided that she needed to be free of caring for me for a while. Possibly she felt she could spend more time with Donny — who very much needed special attention at that time — if I was sent away, and possibly she simply wasn’t thinking clearly. What I discovered, only too abruptly, was that she had been consulting with a well known orthopedic surgeon. His Eminence, as I called him privately, never saw me before she and he made plans to have me admitted to a state hospital. There I would undergo a series of orthopedic surgeries that required me to lie in bed in body casts from head to foot for six months at a stretch. Several times.
And so, just before my birthday in early January of 1958, she packed a few of my belongings, ordered me into the back seat of the Buick for the last time I ever saw it, and drove me off to the Massachusetts Hospital School for Crippled Children in Canton. That place was my home for the next two and a half years.
The Massachusetts Hospital School for Crippled Children was certainly the reason why I identified powerfully with Jane Eyre, when I read Charlotte Bronte’s eponymous book a few years later.
Easter Seals from the 1930s, long before I was born
…Two collared doves sat in the tree Opus the Birdwatcher scrutinizes in the top photo. You can see one above the roof (right side of branch), while the other was behind a thick branch, with only its tail visible. A third dove sat nearby, calling loud invitations. Yet another was high above, touching clouds… Both photos were taken at the same time.
Seasons may go round and round forever as trees remain themselves, handling natural and man-made conditions as they come. Sliding in and out of sunshine and snow times, holding their branches up for birds and saws alike, to nourish with fruit, nuts or sap, shelter, offer fuel and building material.
Growing up where there were plenty of woodlands, feeling calmed by trees from my earliest days on the planet, I’ve gotten a sense of community amongst the trees in a given area. There is the feeling that they come to depend upon one another in their positions, roots anchored into the soil, rock, supported by massive soil biomes unique to their place and time. Trees share so much more than we can see in our casual dealings with them.
Still or wind rubbed trees may appear to be non-sentient, yet if you close down your thoughts as you study them you may just detect inclinations on the part of their branches towards one another.
As this ponderosa pine and plum tree do, growing together close enough to easily mingle their branches, far enough apart to give space to the vital root systems.
There is a German forester who’s been in the news recently — Peter Wohlleben — for his long study of trees, detailed in his book The Secret Life of Trees: What They Feel How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World.
I mean to read it soon. Meanwhile I keep an eye on the five trees in my back yard, alongside their larger neighbors in other yards.
“Were one to observe with an eye that discovereth the realities of all things, it would become clear that the greatest relationship that bindeth the world of being together lieth in the range of created things themselves, and that co-operation, mutual aid and reciprocity are essential characteristics in the unified body of the world of being, inasmuch as all created things are closely related together and each is influenced by the other or deriveth benefit therefrom, either directly or indirectly.” ~’Abdu’l-Baha
Lament not because of the wicked. Thou wert created to bear and endure, O Patience of the worlds. ~Baha’u’llah, Fire Tablet
“Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. ~James 5:11
So endure patiently with a beautiful patience. ~ Qurān; Surāh Al Ma’arij, Verse 5
The soul which cannot endure fire and smoke won’t find the Secret. ~Rumi
Those who act in peace and harmony
sometimes continue to endure in confusion,
but when the fruit of peaceful and harmonious acts
begin to bear fruit,
they remember their way back to the peace and harmony path of life
~120. Sayings of the Buddha: The Path of Peace and Harmony
Pray that you will never have to bear all that you are able to endure. – Jewish Proverb
…Thereupon Tekanawitaˀ said, “I decree that this is to be the principal one, when they are singing the other five songs to their completion. Thereafter one man, the chief they appointed on the side of the condolers, that one will walk back and forth the full length of the house and that we will call ‘Over the Forest’. Moreover, when he begins it will get raised up, the curtain:
Haih, he is my grandfather, haih, you two should listen, when they seek it, they who are the grandchildren, that which now
has grown old, that which you established, the Great Law. Haih, he is my grandfather, haih, truly, it may happen that one listens again.
Haih, he is my grandfather, haih now, at present, in some way, I may perform it improperly compared to the way he used to do it. Haih, he is my grandfather, haih all matters you have taken back with you, into the ground where you are lying again, on your mat, the Great Law.
Haih, he is my grandfather, haih is it not this that you have said: “This will endure, they shall carry on with it, our grandchildren.”
~Words of the Peacemaker, from Concerning the League, The Iroquois League Tradition, as dictated in Onondaga by John Arthur Gibson. [This is about The Great Law which the Peacemaker gave to the five tribes which later became known as the Iroquois, now the Haudenosaunee. The Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca.]
This afternoon is a balmy, high 50s day. A great one to be out in the sun for a while, listening to my neighbors’ banda y corridos music, me and the dogs both quivering our noses at the delicious smells floating our way from their barbecue.
Elf and Opus each get a way overdue brushing. Which they wouldn’t have gotten if Opus hadn’t taken a good roll in the dead grass, emerging in this condition:
When you have your house on the market you really don’t want that much grass highlighting your freshly vacuumed carpets.
This bucolic happiness made me really, really happy that we were not repeating Opus’s disappearing act of last Sunday.
That was one cold, cold, windy, windy day, fraught with snow clouds. I decided that an emergency grocery trip would be necessary, in light of impending horrible weather. All went okay until returned I home to find Elf and Opus ready with their enthusiastic smooch-you-to-death greetings.
During which my wheelchair got tangled up in a small mud rug at the front door.
As I bent to straighten the rug, Opus — channeling his inner Houdini — charged through the front door. No choice for me but to throw the groceries on the floor, curse the rug under my wheels and whiz back out without even closing the big door, leaving Elf of the obedient habit watching me head down the road through the screen.
For an old boy Opus was in fine form. Looking slyly back to assure himself that I was in sight, he sized up the opportunities and lit out towards the busiest street in town. So I had about three city blocks in which to persuade him to let me leash him up and lead him back home.
He was having none of it, showing how under-exercised he is. Ha — the dog is a total couch potato, so whose fault is that?
Why do I not take him for street walks regularly? Because of the many large, loose dogs who may or may not be aggressive or vaccinated.
So what does Opus do but launch nose sniffing, tail wagging encounters with a neighbor’s enormous rottweiler mix followed by two stray black German Shepherds? When the shepherds don’t pay him much attention I heave a big sigh, which does nothing to suggest to my 23 pound racing dog that it’s time to turn around and head home.
The funny thing is that Opus is half dachshund. His legs may be longer than those of a proper doxie, but his body is proportioned long. Watching him dash alongside me — but ten to twenty five feet to the side — I couldn’t help smiling at that crazy shape flying along. His ears flopped, his tail flapped and I swear he was grinning.
Instead of turning around, though, he lights out for the busy street, still two blocks north.
This dog keeps enough away from me that I can’t leash him up, but close enough to be sure I’m still with him. Pretending not to be, turning around and heading home does no good with him. He seizes such opportunities to vanish. Meanwhile I was steamed enough to give off a thermal map like this:
For two good miles we examined empty lots and dirt alleys, he sniffed and marked every post and tree he got close too. Dozens! Do dogs never run out of juice? Wearing an important air like a super-dog cape, he did that while the faithful human mired the power chair in gravel and soft dirt, got separated from him by chain link and adobe fences — and generally cussed and fussed like a sailor. And there was nobody around to ask for help in tackling this suddenly frisky ancient roommate of mine.
All the while I was running the batteries down, and began wondering at what point I might have to turn around before the things got low enough to be damaged. Gravel and soft dirt are h-ll on batteries.
Happily, as my non-reading canine began sniffing his way around the city’s large library I remembered some older dudes standing around the parking lot of the big Baptist church nearby. There when I went shopping, there when I returned, maybe they were still busy sharing stories while their loved ones worshipped? Abandoning Opus to his seemingly endless library investigations, I located the group and came away with one younger fellow in tow.
We finally wrangled the now-weary old pooch into a corner, where he allowed me right up to him and gave me a thoroughly desperate look of “Where have you been all this time?”
The rest of the story is happy.
He drank half a bowl of water and retired to his futon in the feeble sunshine for hours after that. Leaving Elf and me to enjoy the rest of the cold day in front of a space heater, with a blanket.
Today the old fellow snoozes gently beside me, stretched out to the max, heaving the occasional contented sigh. Whatever gets into him, I wonder? From such a quiet snuggle-up-agus who would expect the zeal of a seasoned adventurer to push him so long and so far?
I guess dogs must sometimes be allowed their mysteries.
Life of a Family Dairy Farm. Senior aged husband and wife. The good, bad and ugly of the business. We love it and will try to present an ongoing tale of what happens here. Meet some of our animals and characters born here. Enjoy!