Search This Blog

Friday, April 29, 2022

Where We've Been, Where We're Going

It Wasn’t the Same at All


Sunny and I went over to the Dragoon Mountains the other day. I knew it wouldn’t be the same without the Artist, but Sunny had never been there (true of so many places for one as young as she), and I wanted a different destination for our day, so I drove west on Ironwood Road from 191, Sunny’s mind a pretty blank slate, I'm guessing, while her dog mom’s was a crowded album of memories.


The first time our old pack, David and Sarah and I, explored up that road was in 2019, and I remember the mountains coming gradually nearer and nearer as the road left civilization behind, my excitement growing so that, by the time we reached Mile 1, I had to jump out of the car to photograph the sign. Somehow this time it looked quite ordinary. Because it wasn’t my first time? Well, yes, I've seen it many times since 2019. As we went on, however, it wasn't only the fact that I’d traveled this road before or my acute awareness of the Artist’s absence that made this trip with Sunny feel so different. 

Cochise County was very snowy in the winter of 2018-19. This past winter, by contrast, was warm and dry, so that places where before we forded running water in the past had nary a trickle this year. And that’s not all. Last year the Forest Service apparently decided that having roads underwater was – not a good idea? hazardous? Whatever their reasons, the most exciting crossings of our 2019 adventure are now not only dry, at present, but when water does flow there again, it will flow in culverts underneath cement. Not the same at all! I’m glad the Artist and I made our safari when we did. Look at the difference between the way it used to be and the way it is now. Not the same at all, is it?

It was still a lovely day, though, with bull thistles and prickly poppies in bloom, and Sunny found everything she saw and heard and smelled new and interesting. It's all new to her.

Not Only About Horses

I've read other books by Mark Rashid and written about them in this blog, so you won't be surprised when I say I was thrilled to find one I hadn't seen before over in Benson the day my friend Juleen and I met for a few hours together. Horsemanship Through Life called out to me from the shelf -- and it did not disappoint. Many years ago when I took a dressage class one winter in Kalamazoo, it was in part to be around horses and in part to cultivate in myself traits necessary for being around horses but also good in other areas of life: I wanted to become more calm, confident, and consistent overall. The lessons Rashid learned in his study of the practice of aikido and transferred to working with horses are similarly transferrable to other general life experiences, and a disarming feature of the personal stories he tells is that he doesn't gloss over his own failures and shortcomings. Rather, he presents the times he has gotten "stuck" as, eventually, occasions for learning new lessons he realized he needed to learn.

Is it too much to hope that I can use the wisdom from this book on horsemanship and life to my very, very challenging puppy project? I certainly hope so, because I need all the help I can get on the road from puppyhood to good dog with Sunny Juliet!

Other Books Read Since Last List Appeared

43. Crais, Robert. Suspect (fiction)

44. Smith, Alexander McCall. The Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe (fiction)

45. Crais, Robert. The Promise (fiction)

46. Tyler, Anne. A Spool of Blue Thread (fiction)

47. Rooney, Kathleen. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (fiction)

48. ??? [I know there was one in here but forget what it was.]

49. Field, Rachel. Hepatica Hawks (fiction)

50. Levine, Stephen. Meetings at the Edge: Dialogues with the Grieving and the Dying, the Healing and the Healed (nonfiction)

51. Juanita, Judy. The High Price of Freeways: Stories (fiction)

52. Weiner, Ellis & Barbara Davilman. How to Raise a Jewish Dog (fiction? nonfiction? You tell me!)

53. Watson, Richard. The Philosopher’s Demise: Learning to Speak French (nonfiction)

54. Rashid, Mark. Horsemanship Through Life (nonfiction)

Please note that I actually read two humorous books #52 & #53) and, yes, laughed out loud over both!

And now, in closing, a heartbreaker -- if, that is, you see what I saw.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Mourning Is a Mountain Road

Don't say you weren't warned.

When Peter Pan, the little lost boy who wanted never to grow up, found himself on Marooner’s Rock with the tide rising all about him, he looked at the bright side and said stoically, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.” That was in part the view of the author of Meetings at the Edge, a book highlighted in my most recent post. Today I am thinking of adventures in a broader sense, those sought and unsought, adventures geographical and spiritual, with death only part of the picture.


I did not plan to go on a hair-raising expedition on Wednesday. I just had to get out of the house and go somewhere – anywhere – to recover from my most debilitating meltdown since losing the love of my life. Everything – and I mean everything! – seemed overwhelming and unbearable! But I had just bought new tires, mounted only that morning, and I had three-quarters of a tank of gas, so driving down the highway a few miles to Chiricahua National Monument didn’t seem an outlandish idea. Maybe, I thought, on my way down the road, I wouldn’t even go that far. Maybe I’d take the road to Fort Bowie but not even as far as the parking lot, maybe just pulling off at some scenic spot along the way. There was a car behind me as the turnoff got close, though, so instead of slowing down I kept going. 

This way to Pinery Canyon --

Then, should I take the road to the Monument or stay on the main road? I chose the Monument road, but at the T intersection, where turning left takes one into the Monument on a paved road and turning right on gravel and sand leads to Pinery Canyon, I turned right. Again, it was the impulse of the moment. The Artist and I had explored partway up Pinery Canyon once but had always “saved” the expedition over the mountains for another time and so had never together faced the terrors of Onion Saddle at the top of the range. Well, I had no plan to face those terrors on Wednesday, either. But the farther I went into the Coronado National Forest, the more committed I became. Accidentally, as it were. Because turning back seems ridiculous at a certain point, don’t you find? 

Camping spot along the dry creek bed

Once in a while I would see a campsite (a couple of small tents, a few clothes hung on a line strung between two trees, a fire circle made of rocks), and very occasionally (less than half a dozen times in what was finally 30 miles or so) another vehicle approached and the driver raised a hand laconically as we passed each other, but most of the time there was only me, the puppy, and maybe a deer off in the trees. I found myself driving well below the 20 mph speed limit. Once I pulled over to walk the puppy and saw that indeed the rocky creek bed was dry as a bone. We went on….


An unplanned adventure doesn’t have to fall from the sky like a tornado, all of a sudden. It can creep upon one gradually, and that was my experience of Pinery Canyon. At one primitive intersection I pulled off when three other cars appeared, two behind me and one ahead, relieved that no one was going my way!


…The road narrowed, and the canyon, now on my left, deepened. Loose rocks in the road presented occasional hazards. Basically, as one ascends the mountain, one is traveling a one-lane road with the potential for two-way traffic. 


A sign appeared: Portal, on the other side of the mountains, was still 20 miles off, twenty miles of narrow, winding, climbing mountain road! Going on from this point was a big commitment, as there might not be further opportunities to go back, whatever the road ahead presented. Still not completely sure I wanted to go all the way, I proceeded cautiously. Upon reaching a sign that announced Portal still 19 miles distant, I reflected on the length of a mountain mile. Nothing like a mile on flatlands! But I had hours of light, nowhere I had to be, so I might as well keep going.


You know that feeling at the top of a Ferris wheel when you pause for a nanosecond and then begin the downward plunge? A glance into the terrifying abyss off the side of my road turned my legs to jelly in just that way. Glancing over was irresistible, but I could not look for more than the briefest glance, even if I stopped stock-still. It was too frightening. My photo does not convey the terror of the vertiginous drop!

Edge feels all too close

At one point the road seemed to be leveling off and even descending, and I wondered, looking off to nearby peaks, if I had passed the highest point. Could it be? Hey! Easy-peasy! My relief was short-lived, as the road began to climb once more, twisting like a snake, making blind hairpin turns – and still it went on and on, as if it would never reach the saddle, much less arrive at Portal on the other side of the range. 

Sometimes I could see below me a portion of road just traveled. Other times the coming road appeared above, across a chasm, and I prayed there would be no other vehicles coming toward me around the turns.

Road to come

Road traveled 


At last! The highest hairpin! Onion Saddle! There was the Sulphur Springs Valley spread out below me, my Arizona home valley, a distant panorama – and around the turn the San Simon Valley appeared far below, with its long views into New Mexico. I had crossed Onion Saddle! “If we can do this, we can do anything!” I said aloud to Sunny, tears in my eyes.

Another hairpin

Sulphur Springs Valley

San Simon Valley

Miraculously finding a pull-off spot a couple of minutes later, I paused to catch my breath, get out of the car, and photograph some lupines in bloom. Another car went by, also going toward Portal, and I was glad to be off the road just then and not pressed to go faster by someone behind me. 

Water in the road? Wonderful surprise on the way down! I hadn't counted on seeing and hearing running water.

And a blooming tree! That too looked like some kind of miracle, surrounded by oaks, junipers and pines.

When another decision point appeared, I chose the nine miles to Portal, knowing that the last stretch would be paved and easy. And anyway, Paradise could hardly paradise for me without the Artist, could it?

There were the stunning rock faces that I remembered from a visit to Portal and the Southwest Research Station when the Artist and I had approached it with a visiting friend via I-10, down 80 through New Mexico, and by way of the Portal Road, a long, roundabout way (though they are all “roundabout,” in one way or the other) but much less hair-raising than going over the mountains. My road would be basically downhill from here on. Downhill in low gear, of course, careful not to slide on loose rock. 

The most extraordinary sight, however, appeared when I was a scant few miles from Portal, and it was one I did not capture with my camera. Imagine, if you will, seeing a turquoise swimming pool, like something out of a David Hockney painting, and a woman lazily stroking her way from one end to the other -- in a setting such as this!


Well, I shed many, many tears while crossing the mountains, thinking of how the Artist and I had talked of making this daring trip sometime and how he would have loved the long panoramic views and how precious it would have been to share the heart-stopping fears, as well as the soul-expanding thrills of the mountain road, with all its ups and downs and edges and startling sights. How can my own experiences ever again be fully real without him? 

And I thought as I wound my way up and down the mountains that grief is a mountain road: There is the abyss of utter loss, the chasms of loneliness, the heart-stopping fears of all that lies ahead. Will I be able to do this alone? For how long? There are also glimpses of beauty, both in memories and overflowing gratitude. But the road seems endless! And just when you think it’s leveling off, it becomes once again a narrow, rocky climb, and sometimes you need to stop and have a meltdown -- but then you must go forward again, because there is no turning back.


I don’t know if the mountain road of mourning has a destination, some spiritual version of Portal, with a welcoming café, cool beverages, and happy families on vacation. It would be lovely to think a reunion awaited at the end of the trail. Or maybe (and I think more likely) the spiritual road just keeps going as long as one lives but comes gradually down off the mountain and takes a gentler route, with only occasional blinding storms. Really, I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out. 

All I can say for certain is that I don’t envisage making the physical drive over the Chiricahua mountain range again, and it’s a foregone certitude that I will never again lose the love of my life. But my afternoon of despair did give way to a minor triumph of sorts. I crossed Onion Saddle and lived to tell the tale.


Taking paved roads home through New Mexico at sunset

Monday, April 18, 2022

Wherever They Are to Be Found


“We’re always buying books,” the Artist used to tell people who wondered what we did all winter. We felt it as a big loss when all three bookstores in Benson closed (one because of death, one due to retirement, and one when the owner moved out of the area). The only independent bookstore I know of in Cochise County now is down in Bisbee, and getting to Bisbee always seemed to take a lot of planning, so much so that we hadn’t been there since spring of 2021. And why would I go without my husband, who loved to read the New York Times at the library in Bisbee (only library in the county to carry it) and to enjoy a generous bowl of pho at the little hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant? 

at Bisbee library

Awaiting lunch in Bisbee

As for where to find used books, there are still thrift shops and little shops run by various Friends of the Library groups in Cochise County. The Friendly Bookstore in Willcox even has an outdoor 10-cent book table, which the Artist and I have perused for years on a regular basis. (That reminds me of someone who came in my bookstore in Northport to ask where my 10-cent books were. Nowhere, sorry! I am working for a living, not on salary or pension!) Books on the table remain outdoors night and day, in all kinds of weather, enduring baking sun and punishing dust, and in the event of rain (a rare occurrence), soaked volumes are hauled off to the waste transfer station down the road and the table refilled with a “new” lot of used books. But on my own in recent weeks, I haven’t been doing much book shopping. It isn’t the same by myself, we have plenty already in the cabin, and I can borrow books from the library. 


The other day, however, a shady parking spot was available across the street (shade for puppy), so I stopped, and a glance through the 10-cent books turned up a little paperback I figured had to be worth gambling a thin dime. Author Stephen Levine’s book, Meetings at the Edge, had a subtitle that began Dialogues with the Grieving and the Dying…. Now, I do not think (or feel that) “the Universe” put that book out there for me to find. On the other hand, the subtitle did speak to my situation. 


Each chapter begins with someone calling “the Dying Project,” a free telephone consultation service provided by Stephen and his wife Ondrea (1979-82) for the “terminally ill and those working closely with a death.” Some callers had cancer, while others had family members who had received a terminal diagnosis or were already near death. One woman’s daughter had been murdered. There were occasional professionals who worked with dying patients and had a crisis of their own at the same time.


A family member wrote to me recently that “when we open ourselves to love, we open ourselves to pain,” and reading that it occurred to me that the briefest way I can describe the lessons in Meetings at the Edge is that the author gradually brings his callers to see that they – and that is, we, all human beings-- must be open to pain and loss and even to death in order to be fully open to love and to be truly alive, because if we fight against what is, we cannot be fully alive in the world as it is.


Disclosure: I am not a Buddhist. (In fact, I am so not-Zen!) And this book is saturated with Zen metaphysics. But just as I find the way people treat other people much more important than anything they say they believe, so as I read this book I set the metaphysics to one side and focus on the practice, which is not a turning away from or attempting to cover over grief but a sitting with it, acknowledging it, with all its pain, in order to get beyond pain to a core of – Levine calls it “undifferentiated,” “eternal,” or “universal,” -- I’ll call it undying love.


In my last post, I quoted myself as follows: “There is no shortcut to a long relationship.” Similarly, there is no shortcut through grief. There is no spiritual pain pill, no bromide, no set of magic words to clear away the clouds of bereavement once and for all. 


I have written about the deep gratitude I feel for my years with the Artist, for our rich life together, along with gratitude I have for the support and love of family and friends, attentive neighbors, and even a very demanding puppy that gets me out of bed one morning after another. And all that is true and real, and the sun is shining here in Arizona (even as it snows again in Michigan), and I realize I am a very fortunate woman in many, many ways . But if anyone thinks my heart is not often heavy, that my throat does not ache and that my eyes don’t fill with tears as I drive down the highway, then I have painted a very, very misleading picture. 


How to wrap up this post? Perhaps I won’t even try. It is early yet in my journey….


Summer morning light, northern Michigan

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Past Catches Up with Me (In Two Parts)

(If only!!! Could not resist this image.)

 “They never did anything with that degree. What a shame!” Oh, yeah?


Some people probably think I have always lived in the past: books printed on paper and bound between covers, handwritten correspondence, two-lane roads, and so on. Not to mention (but here I go, doing it) memories! And on that oh-so-postmodern platform called Facebook – Is this a paradox? Life is a paradox! -- I have reconnected with many friends from my graduate school days at the University of Illinois.


The latest reconnection, however, came from a surprising and unexpected quarter. A friend back in Leelanau County, Michigan, mentioned in a brief e-mail that he had been in contact with a “a philosophy prof and--as are so many--a professional magician,” Larry Hass. Larry Hass? Could it be the same Larry Hass who completed his Ph.D. work while I was in graduate school in the philosophy department at the University of Illinois? Larry, the Merleau-Ponty scholar, married to Margie, the logician, the couple who hosted the only Super Bowl party I have attended in my life? 


It was! Holy cow! Talk about a career change, Larry!


Magician Larry Hass onstage

Back in graduate school, we downtrodden students used to peruse the APA’s monthly “Jobs for Philosophers” bulletin every time it came out. At my already advanced age (old enough to have been the mother of a couple of my office-mates), I figured gloomily that the best I could ever hope for would be a series of one-year sabbatical replacements. Two of my cohort have remained in the academic world (Larry and Margie were a year or so ahead), but others in that group have taken diverse paths --one a lawyer, another with his own IT company, a third a prize-winning winemaker, and so on. Now, from the cohort ahead of us, a magician! I figure this gives new meaning to “Jobs for Philosophers”!


Actually, when I was still in graduate school I thought there would be an interesting book in real-life JFPs. Some of my early examples of people who studied philosophy for shorter or longer periods of time and ended up in very different fields included: filmmaker Errol Morris, who also worked for a while as a private detective, as you’ll see if you follow the link; warlord Charles Taylor of Liberia, not to be confused with the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, please; and comedian Steve MartinAnd, of course, not to be immodest, how about bookseller moi? My magician friend and I agree that neither of us regrets our time spent in graduate school or the degrees we earned. We feel fortunate to have had that experience, both the agony and the occasional ecstasy of it.



“There is no shortcut to a long relationship.” 


There. I have quoted myself. It’s what I said to someone long ago who expressed a wish to have a relationship like the one the Artist and I had. 

Our love affair, the Artist's and mine, spanned nearly 47 years, and there were many, many complications and difficulties along the way. It was certainly not all moonlight and roses, especially for the first decade and a half. There was a long stretch when we thought we had lost each other forever. And when we made the decision to give each other -- and ourselves! -- another chance, the issues that had brought us to grief before remained to be worked through, and the working-through was not always easy, let alone idyllic. That second honeymoon period was, however, because of our deep love for each other and because we were finally ready to start growing up, more heavenly than hellish, and the heavenly portion grew richer as the years went by. 


Growing up is something I’ve been thinking about in terms of long relationships, too. The Artist always said that living me was like living with a 10-year-old girl, and I would tell him that living with him was like living with a 14-year-old boy. Neither of us wanted to be, ourselves, or wanted the other to be, completely grown up. Where would the fun be in that? We both loved each other's (often unleashed) inner child, and it was lovely to act like kids together, singing silly songs in the car on road trips, for instance, and generally sharing our enthusiasms with each other. The aspects of being not grown-up that had been terrible pitfalls for us in our first decade together were what we had to leave behind in order to go on together.


One reason I’m dwelling these days on the subjects of long relationships and growing up, other than reliving my happy marriage and missing my husband, is that I have a very young puppy. And oh, the trials of puppyhood! This little girl is very lively, willful, and challenging, and there have been days when I have felt overwhelmed, even at times discouraged. But I keep renewing my personal pledge to guide her to maturity as a good dog, one with whom I can grow old, and in the past couple of days I have seen noticeable progress.

Thinking about giving me backtalk


One of Sunny Juliet’s most annoying habits and one that made me very sad was the way she would bark at strangers. Men, women, children – bark! bark! bark! So I’ve been working on that by taking her to different places and feeding her treats when anyone appeared, telling her “No barking” and “Good dog!” And I can now report that it is paying off at last. As of yesterday, I don’t even have to provide a steady stream of treats! She went into the office at the tire shop with me and didn’t bark when another customer came in. I took her into the library, and she did not bark at the librarian. Today at the coffee shop, she didn’t bark at all, at anyone, not even the delivery person carrying huge boxes up the sidewalk to the front door. I tell her “Sit,” and she sits, “Down,” and she lies down. She doesn’t stay seated or prone, but she’s only a puppy, and when I repeat the command, she obeys again. She is maturing, and we are both learning patience with each other. 

I know the road ahead in my relationship with Sunny will not be all moonlight and roses, any more than a marriage can be a honeymoon every day. I’m not that naïve! Sunny is getting through her toddler testing period, and then in a while will come her rebellious teen period. But it doesn’t matter. We are bonding, and we’re in it for the long haul. No shortcuts but enormous rewards. And fortunately, there is always an inner puppy remaining in the oldest dog.

A future of Sunny mornings

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Meeting and Conquering Some Challenges – and Giving Up on Others

Spring has come to the "land of little rain."


It is the second week of April, the last month of my winter “retirement” season here in Cochise County, Arizona. I think back to New Year’s Eve and how glad the Artist and I were to see the end of 2021, a year of so many losses, and what high hopes we had for the new year. A fresh, clean page! But then 2022 got off to a rough start for us (as well as for the rest of the world), and despite several hopeful restarts, personal tragedy finally arrived as March came in like a – what on earth to call it? A horseman of the Apocalypse? Of all the previous year’s losses, none comes close to the hole in my heart that this year’s Ash Wednesday brought.

Time for another morning dog walk --

But for those left behind, life goes on. The sun continues to rise and set, one foot must be put in front of the other, there are jobs to be tackled and questions to be answered and forms to fill out, errands to be run, all the regular maintenance of daily life plus the new and unfamiliar. And while there are challenges in life we would all rather not face if we could avoid them, others are no doubt helpful. You already know the challenge that keeps me on my toes and makes me laugh these days when she isn’t driving me crazy! Little Sunshine, I call her. Tiny Girl. Sunny Juliet, the puppy the Artist was so eager to bring into our life so that we could be a pack again. Now for his sake, as well as my own, taking care of her is my #1 responsibility in these last Arizona weeks. 

Big responsibility!

Other changes in my life are more subtle but definitely there. The hours I spend reading have diminished, partially in light of the demands Tiny Girl makes on my time, but even what I choose to read has changed at present -- probably not permanently, but right now. For example, I learned of an important writer whose work I did not know and acquired three of her books, a memoir and two novels. I read the late Maureen Howard’s Expensive Habits (novel) and Facts of Life (memoir) right away and passed the latter along to a friend who was a fan of the author’s work but hadn’t read the memoir. Next up was a long novel, Natural History….


It isn’t often that I read 199 pages of a book and decide not to finish it. Why wouldn’t I have stopped sooner? And why did I stop at all? The book is not an easy one to read, but it is not beyond my capacities, and it is beautifully written. It’s just that – I found it depressing. Everyone in the book was unhappy. And their lives were not marked by unspeakable tragedy, either, just the ordinary difficulties and disappointments of life on earth in the 20thcentury, but it isn’t that I was impatient with them or blamed them for their discontent. Life doesn’t have to be tragic to be hard, and none of us lives comparatively: we all live absolutely in our own skins and our own personal histories. 


When reading fiction, however, we inhabit for a while the skins and personal histories of the characters encountered on a book’s pages, and finally I decided I didn’t want to live those imaginary lives any longer. Not at this time in my own life. They would have to go on without me. 


An acquaintance had suggested that since I “like dogs” (which seems a pale description), I might enjoy a police procedural by Robert Crais, Suspect. I checked the book out of the library in Willcox and sped through half of it in one night, my motivation increased when I learned that Robert Crais wrote several scripts for “Hill Street Blues,” one of my all-time favorite series on television. 


Suspect isn’t exactly escape reading for me, though. Having lost first a beloved dog and then, only about two months later, the love of my life, I am hardly escaping when I pick up a book about a cop and a dog who have also experienced traumatic loss, the cop when he saw his partner killed on the street – a female partner for whom he had developed feelings he was on the verge of sharing with her -- and the dog when he couldn’t save his human Marine partner’s life in Afghanistan. You might say Scott and Maggie are a pair of damaged misfits brought together by fate, to be healed by love – which seems a pretty heavy burden to lay on a dog. But this is fiction, so I am hoping for a happy ending.


Whatever happens to Scott and Maggie in Suspect, I have a backup comfort book waiting in the wings. It’s one of the novels set in Botswana and featuring Mma Ramotswe, by Alexander McCall Smith. I may have read The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café before, but if so it doesn’t matter. Comfort is no less comfort when it comes around a second time.

"Am I a comfort, Mama?" Sometimes you are, Sunny!

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

We Always Thought We Would Go Back


Apalachicola: laidback, dog-friendly, on the Gulf

…[W]hen you wander it is hard to believe that you will not one day revisit the places that have captured your imagination and struck a chord of sympathy.


- Helen Humphreys, The Lost Garden



The Artist and I did not imagine that the trip we made to France in the year 2000 would be unrepeated. Dreamers, both of us, we imagined returning every September, not only to Paris but also to the Auvergne, to spend perhaps a week or more in the commune of Blesle, and certainly to visit the home of Jean-Henri Fabre ("the Homer of the insects") in Provence, a particular wish of mine that was thwarted when we found the home closed for renovations that September.


For my 50th birthday, David’s present to me was a road trip to Montreal – and again, we were so enraptured by that cosmopolitan city that we pictured ourselves renting an apartment there someday. 


Over the years there were smaller, less obvious, more intimate discoveries, too: a dirt road leading to an old iron bridge over a pretty little river in southwest Michigan, with nothing around but farm fields; a bend on the Little Rabbit River, I think it was, where we sought refuge in a storm and were regaled with Depression-era stories of turtle fishing from a lifelong inhabitant; a mom-and-pop bakery café in a small, dusty north Texas town, where we talked cattle ranching with the caterer’s husband while she was off on another job; the dog park in Florida that our Sarah loved so much she began warbling with anticipation when we came within a couple of blocks of the place, hoping her “boyfriend” would be there! We made a lot of trips to the dog park but only saw that iron bridge, only met the turtle-fishing oldtimer, only visited the bakery café once, though we always thought we would revisit those places we remembered so clearly.


There were many places we did visit more than once. When living in Kalamazoo, we were drawn west repeatedly by Paw Paw and South Haven on weekends, the former for summer flea markets, the latter to walk on the beach of Lake Michigan. During our years together we traveled regularly to Grand Marais, Michigan, our home away from home, and more recently we had begun repeating visits to inland Mio and to Tawas on Lake Huron. A few winters found us on the Gulf Coast of Florida, where one of our favorite day trips was Tarpon Springs. Lately, of course, Cochise County, Arizona, has come to feel like a second home. 


Then in the past couple of years he started to ask me, “Do you think we’ll ever go back to France?” And now David and I won’t be making another trip to Tucson together, let alone Sérignan-du-Comtat. The places we always went, I will now go alone or not at all. The places we saw only once and thought we would see again together, we will not. Trips we didn't make – to the Pacific Northwest, to the Black Hills of South Dakota, to Italy!!! -- will never take place. Saying all this is not self-pity or ingratitude. It is simply stating facts.


Other facts, though, just as real, are that my love and I made many wonderful trips together and had all manner of wonderful travel adventures, majuscule et miniscule. So yes, I am grateful -- and can you wonder that I would want to revisit them over and over in memory?

Being silly in Paris, Missouri. We were often silly on the road.


Books Read Since Last List


It’s a short list. 


39.      Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Strange Pilgrims: Stories (fiction)

40.      Ehrenreich, Barbara. Natural Causes (nonfiction)

41.      Shapiro, Elena Mauli. 13 rue Thérèse (fiction)

42.      Brougham, Rachel. Widowland (nonfiction)


You might wonder about #s 40 and 42. Why in the world would I want to dwell on death in my reading? Wouldn’t escaping thoughts of death be preferable? 


Ah, but you see, not only is death one of life’s biggest mysteries, but there are also times when escaping thoughts of death and dying and hitherto unimaginable loss is impossible, so you might as well face the music and dig in. 


A very good friend sent me Widowland, after first telling me about it and asking what I thought about reading it, because she is a sensitive person and did not want to give me more pain than I already have. She described the memoir as “pretty raw” and “extremely honest,” which you might think would give me pause, but no, it inclined me to say yes. (Hallmark “happy talk” about lessons learned – that I don’t need. I don’t need to be told to “count my blessings.” I do that every day. And the pain is still there.) My friend Karen also knows Rachel, the author, and knew Colin, Rachel’s late husband, who worked for Karen’s husband, and all of these are Michigan people, so there was added incentive.


I read the book in a single day. I cried through most of it. I skimmed some chapters that were not pertinent to my particular situation but appreciate having the opportunity to read Rachel’s story and am grateful to her for having written it. 


Here’s an old memory some of the pages brought back to me: My first husband and I (centuries ago, in another lifetime), ages 21 and 18 (children!), having received a wedding gift from the parents of a good friend of ours, were determined not to respond with clichéd thanks, so when we visited the older couple, we went on and on and on about the wonders of their gift. I don’t remember now what it was. The key to my anecdote is that neither of us uttered the words “Thank you.” To our idealistic young ears, the phrase “Thank you” would have sounded trite. Later we were told by our friend that his parents had been rather put out that we never thanked them for the gift! All our original and personally worded appreciation went for nought.


Why this memory now? Because more and more I have come to appreciate formal phrases. I no longer see them as clichés but as appropriate and recognizable responses to situations we all find ourselves in sooner or later.


“I’m sorry for your loss” means more to me than the question of how I’m doing. People want to make other people feel better, Rachel Brougham writes, and so they say things intended to encourage positive thoughts. (I won’t quote things people said to her but just note that my friends have, in general, been much more sensitive!) What I like about “I’m sorry for your loss” is that it acknowledges the loss


The other formal phrase I find meaningful is “May his memory be a blessing.” A friend whose mother died only days before my husband says he’s been thinking a lot about those words lately. For myself, I hear it as a blessing in itself and also as a wish that the bereaved person might find future comfort, despite present pain. A blessing, a wish – these are not predictive statements. Again, without pain and loss having been explicitly addressed, they have been acknowledged. 


Rachel Brougham also writes that many people will avoid mentioning the recently deceased, as if doing so would “remind” the widow that he has died – as if it might have slipped her mind! What meant a great deal to her, on the other hand, was hearing stories about her husband from people who had known him, and I have to say that I love that, too. Also, I don’t wait for others to tell me stories or ask me about the Artist: I talk and write about our life together every chance I get. And today I even managed to work a book into my post, didn't I? 

Neither Rachel nor I chose to travel to Widowland. The place came to us, and there is no leaving once you’re there. Wherever you go after losing your husband, widowland will be an integral and inescapable part of your life’s landscape.


Once again, then, the book is Widowland, by Rachel Brougham.


All my love forever --