Welcome to my World

Welcome to the domain different--to paraphrase from New Mexico's capital city of Santa Fe which bills itself "The City Different." Perhaps this space is not completely unique but my world shapes what I write as well as many other facets of my life. The four Ds figure prominently but there are many other things as well. Here you will learn what makes me tick, what thrills and inspires me, experiences that impact my life and many other antidotes, vignettes and journal notes that set the paradigm for Dierdre O'Dare and her alter ego Gwynn Morgan and the fiction and poetry they write. I sell nothing here--just share with friends and others who may wander in. There will be pictures, poems, observations, rants on occasion and sometimes even jokes. Welcome to our world!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Is that all there is?

My first lilac to bloom
There was a song by that title (*details below) some years back and while in a recent philosophical mood, I thought of how it can apply to most of us and our lives. The song portrays the singer's experiences of a number of exciting events but when each is over, s/he always asks plaintively, "Is that all there is?"

Yes, life can be like that. Especially when we experience a significant event or change such as a new job, falling in love, even a divorce, a move etc. We go into the new phase with high hopes and the expectation that somehow everything will be much better, even perfect. And of course it's not. To some degree this situation echoes the old query about the neighbors in one's new home and the answering question:  what were they like where you used to live?

The bottom line is that we basically make our own environment because so much more of our emotions and responses actually come from within us than from the external events and influences that surround us. It's all in how we respond, how we perceive and react. We can be so surly and cold that we find no friends and that is not likely to change. We can be so fearful that we become paranoid and reject any kindness with suspicion until we can clearly see that indeed, "they" are all out to get us. Or we can try to keep an open mind and heart and reach out to others instead of waiting for them to reach to us. We can seek something positive from even the least pleasant events in which we find ourselves.

Over the years I have found that happiness does tend to be a fleeting thing, ephemeral to use one of my favorite 'big' words. Still,
Another gorgeous NM sunset
if I keep my eyes, ears and spirit open and aware, each day has its small miracles and moments of transcendent beauty. There are sunrises and sunsets, flowers and birds, someone's smile or kind word, an unexpected gift, letter or call from a dear one far away. Yes, these things are brief and far too quickly gone but should that detract from their value? Should we ask, petulant as a child whose new toy broke, "Is that all there is?" Or might we better appreciate and enjoy them while they last?

I prefer the latter. True, the good, beautiful and precious things are often fleeting. Too soon the beloved dog or cat, the fine horse and even the dear friend is gone out of our life, probably forever. Nothing we love or truly enjoy stays with us as long as we might hope and wish, yet they were there--for a time ours to cherish and enjoy. Afterwards, we can hold the memories inside and keep those moments and those dear ones with us forever. Or we can fall into grief and despondency, lamenting, "Is that all there is?" until we miss other special moments, events and entities that may come our way.

I admit to having my bad moods and a tendency toward depression at times but as the years go by, I come to accept and deal with the dark days while I do my best to recall the bright times and trust that others will come my way in however many hours or years remain for me. Perhaps "that" is all there is, yet if you take in total all the good, there is a great deal of it, perhaps even more than the bad. And, since I believe we are here to learn and grow in the deepest spiritual sense, good can even come from the bad experiences. We need to use them to learn, to see where we erred and perhaps how we at least in part may have brought them into our lives.

 Details from Wikipedia: "Is That All There Is?" is a song written by American songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller during the 1960s. It became a hit for American singer Peggy Lee and an award winner from her album in November 1969. The song was originally performed by Georgia Brown in May 1967, then recorded by Dan Daniels in March 1968, then by Leslie Uggams in August 1968, and Peggy Lee in August 1969, followed by Guy Lombardo in 1969, and Tony Bennett on 22 December 1969.[1]
Peggy Lee's version reached number 11 on the U.S. pop singles chart - becoming her first Top 40 pop hit since "Fever," 11 years earlier - and doing even better on the adult contemporary scene, topping thatBillboard chart. It won Lee the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and then later was named to the Grammy Hall of Fame. The orchestral arrangement on the song was composed by Randy Newman[2] who also conducted the orchestra.[3]

Friday, April 3, 2015

OWL and the coming anthology

My four friends of the Older Writer' League at the Alamogordo Senior Center and I  met this afternoon as usual. The five of us form the main movers and shakers for the upcoming memoir story anthology.

We are: George Frost--who is over 80 but active and sharp as a proverbial tack and has a wonderful sense of humor and many amazing tales to relate.  Jan Charles, a fantastic woman of African American ancestry who grew up in Ohio when segregation and active prejudice were very much a part of the culture. She also has a wonderful way of telling stories and mixes humor and anguish in an inimitable fashion. Carolyn Kittle, a native of Appalachia who still has a few of those mountain folk idioms and accents (reminding me of my Kentucky grandma) despite extensive education and experiences has a trove of wonderful stories to share. And Jay Brenner, a friend of mine from Arizona days who was instrumental in my living here today. She was another 'hillbilly' from West Virginia who left those roots far behind and also has had some amazing experiences including a two year stint as a contract employee in Iraq, supporting the soldiers there. Then there is me, the old mule skinner, cowboy girl and eccentric author.

You can well imagine the tales we share. Everyone reads something aloud and then we farm things out to be edited before we include them in the collection which will be published about September. It will be an ebook at first but perhaps in print at some point.  In time I will share some of their stories that I have to edit but for now here is one of mine. It is a little long so take your time!

And here is a photo from that time before you begin! The blonde with braids in the middle is yours truly!

The Camp Wood Boys

            I went to second grade in Jerome at Clark Street School for just a couple of weeks. After that, I began an interesting adventure as the only girl and for one year the youngest pupil in a tiny one room school in a remote corner of central Arizona.
            Camp Wood was not even a real town, merely a settlement hardly worthy to call a community. It did have a Post Office which was also a kind of company store, a sawmill and a school. It sat in the middle of the Prescott National Forest in Yavapai County, about seventy five miles out on gravel roads from Prescott, the town. Even that town, the county seat, was not a huge one in those days—the fall of 1950. Today’s Prescott Valley was nothing but a bare rolling grassland serving several ranches for grazing. The changes wrought by some sixty plus years are amazing.
            I had not been too happy in the Jerome school because I was still adjusting to being among a group of kids for the first time in my life and I was a misfit because of the way my parents dressed me and the experiences I had lived thus far. Camp Wood was a much easier adjustment for me! There wearing jeans or miniature railroad overalls was no odd thing. There were no other girls to compare to, certainly none in frilly dresses and patent leather Mary Jane shoes!
            The student body of the school consisted of a grand total of eight students. In the seventh grade were Bill Pehl and Jack Crow. They both came from the Yolo Ranch, one of the Green Cattle Company’s properties and part of the old Spanish Land Grant called the Baca Float. Bill’s dad was the foreman and Jack was the son of a cowboy and at least part Indian. I am not sure if Mervin Foster was in seventh or eighth grade. More on his family in a minute. The sixth grade was Fred Merritt whose dad ran the sawmill and whose mom was the Post Mistress and queen of the very small kingdom of Camp Wood. He often wore a Davy Crockett style coonskin cap with the ringed tail hanging down and I envied that no end!
            The rest of the students, scattered among the grades were all Fosters. Their dad was kind of the foreman and main sawyer for the saw mill. They were some kind of “hillbillies” and perhaps had come from Alabama, where the Merritts were from originally. There didn’t seem to be any girls in the family. The eldest, Norman, was out of school and working beside his dad. He was probably in his mid teens. Next was Mervin, already mentioned,  then LeRoy who was in the fifth or sixth grade, Lauren a grade or two lower and finally Ronald, who I think was in second grade or third. We all progressed at our own pace, really so grade designations were a bit artificial. I was, of course, the eighth pupil.
            The teacher was my dad, who had just gotten certified to teach in Arizona at the time. He, Mom and I lived in a tiny trailer which was smaller than a lot of today’s RVs and Campers. There was no electricity or running water. The school was served by two outhouses of the traditional variety. The first year we used an old rickety frame building. I guess it was heated with a wood stove but I really do not recall.
            Anyway, the boys all wore jeans or dungarees to school, mostly with polo shirts which were striped knit shirts, sometimes with a front placket but pull-overs instead of a full button front. Bill may have worn some western cut shirts, probably miniature versions of his dad’s work uniform. Cowboys wore Levis and long johns, denim or chambray shirts and jean jackets or leather coats lined with sheep skin for the most part. The saw mill people, Mr. Foster and the Mexican men who also worked with him dressed much the same, either bib overalls or dungaree work pants.
            I wore my overalls or jeans with high top ‘clod hoppers’ and flannel shirts or polo shirts like the boys, a jean jacket or sometimes the little red wool coat that my grandmother had made me. By then it was about car coat length on me although it had begun as a regular coat near knee length. I loved red at that time and really enjoyed that little coat which had a matching bonnet or hat with a strap under the chin to keep it in place.
            Within some limits, I played with the boys and we all had a lot of fun. We played a baseball game that had no teams—Dad called it “work up” since each player began in one position and ‘worked up’ through them all until he reached the at bat turn. I was no great athlete but played my positions and sometimes managed to hit a ball when my turn at bat came around. There were tag games, dodge ball and even crack the whip, I think. The next year after the new school house was built, we played “king of the mountain” on some piles of dirt left from the construction.
            The second year, we had a new building but still only a one room school. However it was less drafty and had shingled sides—probably asbestos (oh my!) and clean bright windows. Still a wood burning stove and still no electric lights but it seemed nicer. The old building became a kind of wood shop for the boys and Dad managed to get some simple basic tools like hammers, hand saws, pliers, screw drivers etc. The kids had a great time building things with the scrap lumber left over from the new school. I didn’t participate much but did play with some of the cars and things they built.
            Behind the school and the teacher’s trailer home there was a fairly deep arroyo. The boys soon cut roads in the banks and with “log cabin” syrup cans and other odds and ends created a regular little community and drove the trucks and cars they built up and down the banks. I joined in this some too. Still, I tended to do some girly things too and with sticks and pine boughs laid out some ‘houses’ furnished with a few boxes and odds and ends where I devised elaborate games to amuse myself. I could do that even when school was not in session and the other kids were not around.
            That second year, I think Mervin either graduated or quit and a new younger Foster came to school, Verlin, who was in first grade and then two years behind me.  At that point in my life, I hardly differentiated between boys and girls. I dressed much the same and except for being kept a close eye on by my parents, I did not experience a lot of different things during school than the other students. Since I had no girls to play with, the boys were okay and beat being alone all the time.
            Looking back on those days, I realize what a unique and amazing experience it all was! Not a lot of my contemporaries ever got to live such a thing. I am sure my education did not suffer, either, as the teacher was especially strict and demanding when it came to my lessons. I got a full dose of readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic appropriate to my grade levels. I mostly made B’s and A’s on my six week report cards which my Mom duly signed and sent back! In many ways, it ended too soon.
            I have not seen any of the other students since I left really, although I think a couple of them came by Clarkdale, where we lived, several years later, now ‘big boys’ past high school and working to put together a band! As for Camp Wood itself, from my research it appears that the community has gone back to the forest and few traces remain. A small sawmill would not be economically feasible now and although the ranches still exist, they are more often managed remotely by people who live in more settled areas and only visit as needed to care for the stock during round up and such. Perhaps one or two reclusive cowboys may reside in a small bunkhouse or line cabin but that’s it.
            I did look for a few names on the internet and may have located two or three of the former students, but never tried to get in touch. I seriously doubt they would recall me, just one pesky little girl who briefly passed through their lives… And I never did get a coonskin cap!

Oh my, I goofed!

When I posted some photos the other day I misidentified a couple of plants!
While it is accepted as an alternative name, Sand Verbena is properly known as Prostrate Vervain. Vervains are part of the rather small Verbena family.

Wild Radish, of the mustard family
But darn, the plant I called African Rue is really Wild Radish, another member of the rather ubiquitous mustard family. Except for the sunflower family, mustard is the most diverse and numerous group of western weeds! I have identified and photographed the Rue but it blooms later in the season and has different leaves. Here is the Wild Radish, correctly labeled. Shame on me for fifteen minutes for this careless error! And the very delicate white flowers that resemble Baby's Breath are another mustard, this one called Hoary Cress! That was one I had never identified before and it took some intense review in my go-to reference book.

Weeds of the West is a wonderful and well illustrated encyclopedia of darn near every plant that can be called a weed from New Mexico to Montana--the whole west is well covered. While some plants are regional others prevail through the entire region. The book is the collaborative effort of seven experts, mostly extension weed specialists in various states and/or affiliated with state agricultural university programs. It is published by the University of Wyoming and the ISBN should someone want to get it is 0-941570-13-4. The version I own was revised and reissued in 1992 but there may be a later version.

Tiny red blooming cactus of "pincushion" type