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Heavy Heart

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Our shadows wave across the Grand Canyon



KATE KANE DUBEL 7/14/1917 — 10/13/2011

Kate has been my friend since I was about fifteen years old.  My blog post dated 4/29/11 and titled “Skillets in the Oven” described my last visit with her.

We’ve had several great adventures together.  This shadow picture is from the time we went to the Grand Canyon for a short day hike and ended up spending the night at Phantom Ranch next to the mighty Colorado River – unexpected guests of the National Parks Department.  The story sounds like an unpleasant misadventure, but it wasn’t.  Kate sprained her ankle two-thirds of the way down the South Kaibab Trail, which is a little over six miles one-way.  It seemed impossible for her to limp back to the top, so the only other choice was to get her to Phantom Ranch where we could hire a mule to give her a ride out.  It bears noting that I was in my mid-twenties and Kate, strong and spirited as any of my peers, was in her late sixties.  So she sat on the trailside with the last of our water, assuring me that she would be fine and was delighted by the view, while I hustled the two remaining miles to the bottom and found a ranger.  With a female ranger leading the way, we headed back to Kate, and then the three of us hobbled her down the trail.  For me, the hiking miles were racking up, and I wondered how I was going to find the strength to make it out myself.  I couldn’t afford a mule trip, and Kate wasn’t offering to pay my way.  Unbeknownst to us at the time was the fact that mules go only one direction in a day.  A mule was sent down for her, but it wouldn’t be able to take her back up to the rim until the next morning.  Personally, I was relieved.  Kate was given a couple of aspirin and an Ace bandage.  We were also given two used, cast-off sleeping bags and shown a spot in the dirt where we could sleep.  This was all happening on a cool, clear autumn day.  Aspens along the river’s edge were ablaze in fall color – vermilion reds and oranges and plenty of canary yellow.  With the exception of Kate’s ankle, it was a perfect day.

Neither of us was carrying any cash, so we rationed our lunches so that they became dinner and breakfast too.  That night, despite being a little cold, hungry, and on the ground, I slept like the dead.  However, double misfortune befell my friend in the middle of the night – a scorpion stung her.  Not deadly, but painful.  Ouch, ouch, ouch, but no worries, Kate was tough and did her best to laugh it off.  What were the odds for such a crazy combination of events to occur?  The next morning, before sunrise, I began my big trek up.  I chose to go up The Bright Angel Trail because it would be the one Kate would ride up.  It was a slightly longer distance, but spectacular.  About 11:00 Kate and her personal escort were gaining on me.  I could hear them several switchbacks down the canyon wall.  As they rode past me, Kate was having the time of her life.  She had bonded with her mule and thoroughly charmed her guide.  I’ll never forget the parade wave she gave me as they twisted out of sight at the next zigzag.  My muscles were twitching with fatigue, my stomach was folding in on itself with hunger, and the uphill grind had me sweating out ever sip of water that I was drinking and running out of.  While I was still within earshot, I hollered, “Kate!  You owe me!”  Her infectious, cackling laugh echoed off the canyon walls.

We had over three and a half decades to care and love one another.  She was an amazing woman.

Have a great week, and I’ll post again next Friday.


Friday, October 14th, 2011

This week I’ve had money on the brain.  I’m so grateful to the thousands of individuals who are out on the city streets of America taking a stand against the financial injustices that are crippling our country.  I think we of the middle class have had enough of politely sitting by while we are being fleeced right, left, and center.

I decided to take a hard look at where I stand financially, and I’m still in disbelief.  I didn’t get to fancy with the project.  I figured what I spend and what I make.  The numbers are rough, but they give me an idea.  When I subtracted expenses from income, I had about $6000 to play with.  But then I remembered to factor in money if I want to take any vacations.  Cha-ching $2000.  Then I remembered oil changes and car maintenance.  Cha-ching $500.  Oh, I forgot dental.  Just teeth cleanings, $350.  A root canal,  crown, or other dental or medical emergency puts me in the red.  Damn it!

I’m not poor.  I have a great life, but I live way too close to the margin for a woman who has worked for 38 years.  I can support what I have, but if anything extra creeps in, then I’m sunk.  My biggest expense is my medical insurance, $5,800 per year.

I could go on and on about this, but I’ve got to wrap it up and go to work.  I’m still making up for lost time while I was on a two week vacation.

Did somebody tell me they get six weeks paid vacation in Europe as standard practice?  Wow!

Have a great week, and I’ll post again next Friday.

Contact High

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Mendocino, CA

This week has been the catch-up week following an eleven-day vacation along the California coast and up into the north coast redwood forests.  There’s been lots of work, and lots of chores, but I’m not letting go of my good vibes from that time off.  So while I’ve been busy, I’ve also been mindful of life’s bigger picture.  Being up-tight is my choice, and I’m choosing not to do that.  A friend was recently talking about getting a “contact high” from being around folks who were behaving…humm…recklessly.  I keep thinking about that conversation and how easily I can pick up an anxiety contact high.  I suppose it’s actually a contact low.  I’m watching out for that phenomenon and avoiding it.  I seem to be as vulnerable to fear, pessimism, dread, or sorrow as I am to a common cold.  I realize that I must take steps to defend myself against such afflictions where I can.  One of the tricks I use is to wash my hands up to my elbows after I’ve come in contact with another person’s troubles.  I envision their stories washing off of me and going down the drain.  That way I’m able to listen empathically without burdening myself with borrowed stress.  My life is good.  I have food, a safe home, good health, a loving husband, and good, loving friends.  Beyond that, it’s up to me what I pick up and what I leave behind.  If I can remember all of that, then my day is golden.

Mendocino, Ca They're joking, right?

This week we had a couple of days with the first serious rains of fall.  The sun is out now, and everything is sparkling and bright.  Birds outside my window are chirping enthusiastically.  I’m going out for a hike this afternoon to enjoy all of this loveliness that mother nature provides.

When a giant redwood falls over, is it dead?

Cabrillo Lighthouse, Mendocino, CA

Mouth of the Klammath river

That tiny white spout in the middle of this picture is from a whale at the mouth of the Klammath river

Happy October everybody.  Have a great week, and I’ll post again next Friday.

The Mighty Redwoods

Friday, September 30th, 2011

All of the good words that describe the old-growth redwoods of the Pacific North West have already been used, but I’m going to put some of them down just because they’re so perfect: giants, titans, noble, magnificent, dreadnoughts, humbling, unmatched, spectacular, incredible, amazing, extraordinary, remarkable, immense,… majestic.  Yes, the old-growth redwood forests are all this and more.  It’s the “and more” piece, however, that I find found so captivating during a recent trip up the California Coast.

“Old-growth redwoods” refers to trees that have been growing for over 2000 years.  I live near Glen Ellen’s Jack London Park.  There’s one redwood in that state park that’s referred to as “The Ancient Tree;” however, I was introduced to it as “The Grandmother Tree.”  Grandma is huge with dozens of bizarrely formed burl knobs and lateral branches that support yet more vertical trunks with their own lateral masses.  Imagine a mythic woman with clusters of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren clutching to her knees, hips, arms, and shoulders, each their own distinctive shapes and tonnage, each swaying in the breeze, each reaching toward the sky; that’s what The Ancient Tree looks like.  As a species, this Sequoia sempervirens stands alone — its neighbors are buckeyes, oaks, laurels, maples, and madrones.

Sensational as the Jack London tree is, it doesn’t have the impact it would if it were in an entire grove of senescent redwoods.  Visiting a single tree vs. a grove is akin to receiving one award-winning rose as opposed to a thousand of them; the impact is phenomenal.  Muir Woods National Monument, north of San Francisco, provides one excellent opportunity to experience a couple hundred acres of the colossal trees, but my husband and I were heading further north for this year’s vacation.

Our first forest was Hendy Woods State Park.

On the floor of the Alexander Valley and adjacent to the Navarro river, this trail is only steps from the parking lot and requires absolutely no athletic ability to stroll from tree to tree.

We ended the day in Mendocino.  Although it cost more than a days wages to stay a night at The Little River Inn, we indulged because of the million dollar views.

We were able to do a little mountain bike riding in Van Damme State Park.  Along the way we came upon this cleverly camouflaged frog that blended in with the forest floor.




On our way out of town we stopped by The Cabrillo Lighthouse.


The computer is not enjoying all of these pictures, so I’ll see how many more I can post:

Founders Grove in Humboldt State Park was amazing not only for the standing trees, but for the ones that have come down.  We’re standing in front of the roots of one known as The Dyersville Giant.


Our final destination was Redwood National Park.  In terms of boundary lines, several state parks mingle with Redwood National, but as a visitor, it’s all continuous, jaw-dropping beauty.  We were greeted by a great elk heard when we arrived.


Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is a part of the whole old-growth forest with unbelievable trees and flora.





Before my computer goes up in flames trying to process all of these picture files, I’ll try to fit in just one more.


Before closing, what I want to tell you is that every time I entered an old-growth forest, I was struck by its undeniable beauty, but I also had the oddest sense that the trees were saying something.  It was as if the winds of time were blowing a language from the beginnings of my linage, a language that I may have once known, but could no longer understand.  I wondered what was being said.  I thought perhaps it had something to do with patience, or survival.  I tried on words to see if they’d fit, words like strength, pride, mystery, power.  None of them were exactly right.  On my last day amongst the redwood titans it occurred to me that the word was tolerance.  The great trees speak to me of tolerance.  They have tolerated everything that has come their way for over two thousand years.  Both the standing trees and the ones that have toppled over, they are magnificent.  How tolerant they are of where they find themselves.  I want what they have.

I could say more, but I’ve got to run.  I’m no redwood, but it might not be so bad if I was.

Have a great week, and I’ll post again next Friday.

Random Acts Celebrates One Year

Friday, September 16th, 2011


Random Acts Founder and supportive friends

How cool are these cats?  Cathrine Sevenau, the brilliant woman of wit, wisdom, rhythm, and rhyme, is the reason Random Acts exists.  She’s a powerhouse of feathers, able to get things done with the most delicate and diplomatic of touches.  She’s direct, without being pushy; I guess I’d call that “being clear.”  I admire her grace, dignity, humor, sensitivity, creativity, and her femininity.  On her left is Chris Giovacchini – the sound-man.  He often reads in Spanish, and his accent is sensational.  I could listen to him read the phone book in Spanish and be thoroughly entertained.  David, to Catherine’s right, is keeper of the stopwatch, bell-ringer, and story teller.  His stories often have a high-wire quality to them, where I sit up in my seat marveling at his skill in navigating difficult subjects such as stealing, sex, and male stereotypes.

I’ve talked about Random Acts on several occasions here on this blog.  It’s held the second Saturday of every month at our local bookstore — Readers’ Books.  Basically, it’s Open Mic Night.  Five dollars gets you in the door, and, if you care to, you can throw your name in the hat and get five minutes at the microphone to do with as you wish—sing a song, play an instrument, tell a joke, recite poetry, read prose, perform a skit, etc.  Pretty much almost anything goes as long as you’re done in five minutes.  It’s a great time, and the audiences have been engaged and wonderfully appreciative.

This last Saturday, Random Acts celebrated its first year.  Woohoo Random Acts!  Year one has been a terrific success; the number of participants is growing and the talent is exceptional.  A special treat on Saturday was Andy playing guitar and singing a couple of lullabies from his childhood.  Andy owns Readers’ Books.  There were twenty performers on Saturday, each with their own truly unique style.  I contributed a reading of last week’s blog post, “The Beast.”  Here are a couple of pictures I took while I was at the podium:

Audience to my right with Catherine (front left) and Andy (standing).









Partial audience to my left.









Did I mention that it was a pot-luck? Lots of delish food and drink arrived.









Have a great week.  Actually, have a great two weeks; I’m taking next Friday off.  I’ll look forward to posting on September 30th.  It’s sure to feel like autumn by then, shouldn’t it?  Other than the days growing shorter and a few leaves changing color, I haven’t seen much of Fall yet.  Have you?


The Beast

Friday, September 9th, 2011

On September 11, 2001, I woke to the radio playing Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”  Before my head cleared enough to recognize that soul music was not normal for my alarm-clock station, I savored Marvin’s whispers-in-the-wind voice.  The band’s syncopated bongos rocked my warm and rested body.  Lifted from sleep but not yet delivered to the day, I floated on a mellow magic carpet in a mellow boundless world.  As consciousness rose, I admired the exquisite brilliance and timelessness of the vocals and instruments.  Everything in me felt gratitude for The Prince of Soul and his music.  The Viet Nam war was over; I didn’t have to worry about the lyrics, not yet, not before a little morning caffeine.

The DJ broke into the final fading notes, and his typically genial radio demeanor was absent.  He was measured and serious.  From that moment forward, mellow for me has never been the same.  “What!?  What did he just say?  Did I hear him say that two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center buildings?”  His language was unsure and non-committal.  He was using words such as unconfirmed, preliminary, unclear, and unsubstantiated.

Before I believed my own ears, I questioned whether I might be experiencing a repeat of H. G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” radio misunderstanding.  What I was hearing might as well have been that Martians were landing.  The notion that jets were flying into two of the tallest buildings on Earth was inconceivable.  One plane could have been a horrible accident…maybe, but two was, without a shadow of doubt, an attack.  Jets don’t fly over Manhattan.

On went my TV, and in came the indelible images.  There was broadcasting pandemonium.  The newscasters were trying to sound professional while signals were being crossed, unedited voiceovers were intruding on the commentary, conflicting reports were being read, and video loops were being repeated over and over until stunning new information arrived, which it did every couple of minutes.  There was one compounding horror after another.  People were jumping from the windows of those incinerating towers.  And then there were the implosions, the incomprehensible, devastating, horrifying, cataclysmic implosions.

I called into work and told them that I was staying home until I knew more about what was happening on the East Coast.  I was fully prepared to loose my new job for doing so.  The corporate office could be that way.  We were swamped with work and under staffed.  The first person in the chain of command that I had to report to basically gave me an incensed “What ever,” and I hung up before getting myself into more trouble.  My superior was aware of the catastrophe but hadn’t been watching the news.  She wasn’t listening to the radio, not because she couldn’t, but because she didn’t want to.  I couldn’t imagine sitting at my desk in the Accounts Payable office and processing invoices when the world was never going to be the same again.  I felt relatively safe in sleepy Sonoma, but I feared for nearby San Francisco, with its skyscrapers and bustling financial district, liberals and homosexuals.  I wasn’t terrified, but my concern for imminent relatively local disaster had me rattled to my core.

As the airspace was cleared, I began to believe the worst was over.  Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t.  The President was flying around in Air Force One, and the Vice President was hidden in a secret Bunker.  At the end of the day, my husband made the comment, “You don’t slap a lion.”  The Retribution Beast had been slapped and unleashed, and for ten years that payback glutton has fed on not only the enemy’s blood and money, but ours too.  I haven’t paid the physical price that so many now have, but I have paid the monetary one, we all have.  That beast is expensive.  I’m honestly not afraid of a direct terrorist attack in Sonoma.  What I’m afraid of is the impoverished, desperate, uneducated, unskilled, physically ill, psychologically depraved, and/or spiritually bankrupt individuals who, without remorse, will exact his or her own revenge on me, or someone I love, just because they have been abandoned in favor of the beast.

I pray that that monstrous beast will be re-corralled in my lifetime.  In the meantime, I’ll do everything I can to enjoy what I have, and never take it for granted.

Have a great week, and I’ll post again next Friday.

Compassionate Connections

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Yesterday, I started back at Hanna Boys Center to do the volunteer work I do with the students there.  It’s such a terrific volunteer gig for me.  I truly admire the school and their mission, which is “to turn hurt into hope,” as they say.

I’ve been off all summer, so it was good to see everybody.  One very disturbing discovery was that one of the students I had worked with in the past was recently shot and killed in San Francisco, apparently the result of gang activity.  Several of the students were dressed for his funeral when I arrived on campus.  Their wide-eyed concern was deeply moving to me.  For many of the students at Hanna’s, gang warfare is no joke.  Fortunately, on campus, none of that gang nonsense is tolerated.  The young men at Hanna’s must advocate for themselves in order to be admitted into the school.  They have to convince Father Crews and the admittance office that they truly want to change.  Many of them understand that gang activity is exactly what they are trying to escape and miraculously seem to respect each other, to the best of their boyish ability.

I help with reading and writing at the school.  I tell the guys, “Two brains are better than one,” and they generally smile when I say that.  Part of my job is to convince them that I’m really there for their personal benefit.  Many of them initially feel a certain amount of apprehension about me.  It’s difficult for them to comprehend that I might be genuine.

Each period I meet with a different student.  One of the fellows I saw yesterday was quite stone-faced.  It was hard for me to tell if he was willing to work with me or not.  I decided to just keep talking and keep explaining where I was coming from.  That my history had been that I couldn’t read as a kid, that I went on to teach myself how to read when I was in my twenties, and then spent eleven years pursuing a college degree, and I topped that by writing a novel, which gave me the qualifications to assist him, to the best of my ability, with his reading and writing school work.

The librarian, Ms Cook, came over and told me that he had been interested in doing some letter writing.  Great!  I exclaimed.  Then, slowly, it came out that he would like to write his cousin a letter.  Great!  I exclaimed.  Then it came out that his cousin was in prison, Pelican Bay — a notoriously dangerous prison, housing notoriously dangerous people.  “How long has he been there?”  I asked.  “Fifteen years,” was the answer.  I gulped and acknowledged the obvious, “He must have done something really bad then.”  The student just looked down, and we continued on.  The student, it turned out, has never met this cousin.  I’m not sure how old the student is, but he must have been a baby when his relative was incarcerated.

We talked for a few more minutes, and with a lot of encouragement from me, he agreed to move over to one of the computers and began to compose his letter.  This exercise was rich with computer skills and grammar and punctuation teaching opportunities.  But it was the process and the content that I was most interested in.  We basically only got as far as “Dear ___” and “How are you?”  But it is a start.  I’m looking forward to where this may go.

I finished that session feeling like I had just talked somebody off a ledge.  I asked him if anybody had ever sent him a letter.  He thought for a moment and then said no.  “E-mail?”  “No,” he said, tilting his impassive face to the keyboard.

I go to the school to help with learning, but I also go to model stability.  For so many of the guys I work with, and I primarily work with the ones who are struggling the most academically, they simply do not see enough of that, stability.  Their young minds have to contend with so much heavy crap; I have great compassion for them.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to lift their load, if only a little.

Have a great week, and I’ll write again next Friday.

Home Improvements

Friday, August 26th, 2011

























These two pictures don’t adequately depict the transformation our house has gone through over the years, but you get a little idea.  For the past two weeks, construction workers have been tearing off our old roof (leaving an unbelievable amount of nails behind,) putting a new roof on, and we are replacing our front door, but that still has to be finished.  A stucco guy is coming on Monday to repair what had to be chiseled away to get the old door out, and later in the week the painter will take the door to his shop to be stained walnut and top coated.  I don’t have a good picture of either doors at the moment, but when its all done, I’ll try to find some comparison shots.

All of this work has put me in a serious cleaning mood.  I have to watch it, because I’m beginning to upset my right shoulder.  I’m so impatient when my body tells me to stop doing something.  Not only am I impatient to heal, but I’m stubborn.  I don’t listen, and I keep doing what I want, which in yesterday’s case was wash every window in the house and then spread ten bags of mulch around the yard.  Today I’m only going to clean out my gardening tools shed.  Doh!

All of this work is certainly keeping me from my writing, but it’s also laying the groundwork for getting started again.  While I was writing Pearls My Mother Wore and then trying to sell it, much of my garden and house were neglected, and that has bothered me more and more as things have gotten further out of hand.  At this point, it is hard for me to spend hours at the computer when I know so many other chores need tending to.  Right now I’m taking care of those tasks so that if and when I do settle down to write, I wont have a bunch of home upkeep stuff nagging at me.  Or so that is my thinking.  We’ll see.

Have a great week, and I’ll post aging next Friday.

Desert and Waterfalls

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Ash Canyon, Carson City, NV

Last weekend, Lutrell and I drove for four hours to visit his Aunt Mary in Carson City, NV.  Everybody needs an Aunt Mary.  She’s so loving, easy going, generous, funny, and she bakes amazing cakes and pies.

We took our mountain bikes and explored places we’d never seen before.  On Sunday we rode for over three hours, exploring the high desert terrain.  There is something about that high desert scenery that really appeals to me.  It’s so clean and uncluttered.  The riding was a little tough, one, because of the 5000+ ft. altitude, and two, because the trails were sandy in spots, and that caused the bike to bog down and almost pitch me over the handlebars a couple of times.  Nevertheless, it was great riding, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  I did get nervous when I ran out of water and was several miles from Aunt Mary’s.  Fortunately the ride took us past Carson’s community college and I was able to refill my water-bottle from an available hose.

Vicee Canyon, Carson City, NV

On the drive back home to Sonoma, we stopped at Horsetail Falls.  We’ve driven past this spectacle every time we’ve been on Hwy 50 coming and going from Tahoe, but this time we decided to stop.  Horsetail Falls is at Twin Bridges, just east of Meyers.  We had to pay $5 to park, but it was totally worth it.  Because we could see the falls from the highway and the parking lot, there was little chance that we would get lost, so without a map we headed up the trail.  None of the pictures we came home with do justice to that area.  It’s Yosemite beautiful: massive granite rock faces, pristine water-ways, enchanting wild flowers, and  aromatic pine flora.

Off in the distance behind me is Horsetail Falls

Horsetail Falls trail

Emerald stream along the way

Horsetail Falls 8-14-11

Although the hike was not very long, it did take us a couple of hours to get to this point.  It was as far as I was willing to go.  Along the way, we had to fill out a permit and carry it with us because, they warned, serious accidents and fatalities had occurred, and the rangers would want to be able to identify victims if something happened.  That was disconcerting, but I felt fine most of the way.  At the spot where this picture was taken, I could see that you’d have to be use to rock climbing to go any further.  My knees were getting a little shaky.  We were up pretty high, misty spray was coming off the thunderous falls, and the dirt path had completely disappeared.  We were scaling gigantic boulders, and, no doubt about it, a fall would be very bad.  Not to worry, nothing unfortunate happened.  The waterfall hike was thrilling, and I recommend it, even if you go only as far as the warning/permit station.  It’s definitely a spectacular experience.

Have a great week, and I’ll post again next Friday.


Nick of Time

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Coasta Noa, CA 2010

It’s after 10:00 P.M; but it’s still Friday, and I worked at my hairdressing job Wednesday, yesterday and today, which is unusual.  That’s why I’m getting today’s post in so late, not that I have too much to report.

I discovered yesterday that I had a new review posted at Amazon.  Here is what Dina Goldman had to say about Pearls My Mother Wore:

Terry Harms is the quintessential wordsmith….I was most impressed by her skillful use of language. “Pearls My Mother Wore” is a moving tale of grief and loss….a subject that has the potential to be both trite and cliche….however, Terry masterfully presents this timeless theme in a fresh light, painting a picture with words. I was both surprised and delighted by the introduction of the character, Kiki, toward the end of the novel. With Kiki’s help, Kelly is finally able to forgive and let go….an important lesson to us all.

Isn’t that cool?  I think so.

Forgive and let go.  I need to hear my own words of advice.  Thanks DG for mirroring them back to me.

Have a great week, and I’ll post again next Friday.