Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and More

Wow, hurricane Sandy is really beating up the east coast and a big part of the midwest and central Atlantic states. A huge storm some 900 miles wide. That's wider than the drive from Denver to Dallas. Glad I'm in Colorado and not back on Long Island where I grew up. I have a cousin back there who lives only a quarter mile from Long Island Sound, and I hope his home is ok and that he and his family are also. He's probably without power.

And my cousin Jackie, who grew up in the house right next to ours, lives in Rockaway, NJ, about 25 miles west of NYC with her daughter Donna. I worry for them as that area is also hard hit. I doubt they have much water from the ocean, but I'm sure they have lots of rain and the creeks and rivers in that area will probably flood. And they are all without power, I'm sure.

Watching pictures of the hurricane on the news last night took me back to my childhood on Long Island. On September 21, 1938, a hurricane which became known as the Long Island Express, hit LI with very little warning. Back then, we didn't have airplanes flying through storms to track them, and communications was pretty much limited to the radio. Hell, we didn't even have a phone then.

I was only 2 1/2, but the storm is my first recollection as a child. My sister was just a few months old and my parents were in this little two room house way out in the country, on a country road that only had a few families living on it. I remember the wind and suddenly a panel dropping out of the ceiling, I think probably a hatch into the attic, such as it was. I suspect I remember that incident more because of the fear of my parents than the actual details of the storm.

I also remember when I was probably about eleven or twelve climbing up into my favorite tree, getting as high up in the branches as I could, to sway back and forth as a hurricane passed by. I probably came down when it started to rain, but I remember that sense of joy and freedom as the wind tossed me around in that tree top. Of course, I had no idea how powerful and dangerous the storm could be. My recollection of the LI Express didn't register I guess.

The storm should remind us, but it's hard to remember anything when we have our collective heads in the sand, that global warming is causing more severe weather events, hurricanes, tornadoes, snows, rains, floods, droughts. We have an uncanny ability to ignore the shorter duration of polar ice in the Arctic and the melting of glaciers the world over, and just focus on this quarter's earnings statement and the size of our car and house compared to our neighbor's. Here's a poem I wrote about that a couple of years back.

Another minor extinction

Fire and ice created and carved 
the earth. In these natural cataclysms 
families of creatures whose lives
depend on stable environments
became extinct by change
from hot to cold, cold to hot. 
During the past five hundred million years, 
Change has caused five major 
and many minor extinctions. 
The major ones wiped out most creatures. 
The minor ones were hardly noticed.

Extinctions still go on, but today, fire and ice 
play bit parts in them. Man has devised 
destructive engines that may well lead 
to his own demise.

When man is gone, fire and ice 
will continue to create and carve 
the earth. Great extinctions will happen. 
Will others creatures wonder where 
that toxic, two-legged biped went?

They will note it as a minor extinction 
in the fossil record.

Speaking of poems, I had two recently published in an online journal, Open Window Review. The issue was on about veterans, so I sent them several poems. One has had several people comment on it, so I'll include it here. I've been to The Wall twice, and both times a very emotional experience as I found the names of friends, classmates, and comrades in arms etched on it. 

Washington, D.C., May 1995

Careless gusts chase clouds and tear
too soon the cherry blossoms
from their boughs.
Petals, whirled in the maelstrom,
are spilled free to sink and form
a pale pink pool
along the black wall.

The granite, scarred with names,
mirrors the pink in its ebony shine,
a reminder of blossoming lives—
vulnerable, fragile, young —
blown by the careless maelstrom
of their spring.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Proof of reincarnation

Last night, as we watched a Netflix movie, Walker, our five month old GoldenDoodle came into the room chewing on a rawhide bone. He jumped up on the sofa, and just the way he was looking at me made me think he resembled Kath's dad, whom we called Gramps. I mentioned this to Kath, and soon we were both rolling on the floor laughing. Here's a pictorial comparison. In case you can't tell, the first pic is of Gramps, the second and third of Walker.

I texted the pictures of Walker to our kids, Al and Barb, and they howled also at how much Walker reminded us of how Gramps looked, particularly when he was in a playful mood, with that cigar hanging out of his mouth. So this morning I even captured the event with a haiku.

     dog chewing a bone 
     father-in-law with cigar — 
     he would have loved this 

It has continued hot here for the past weeks, and almost every night there are pictures of the dried up crops out on the plains, corn, soy, wheat, alfalfa, hay. Most of Colorado is in severe drought. The ranchers in Wyoming and Colorado are selling off their cattle at extremely low prices because their pastures are dried up and hay is scarce and costs too much. We've had a few thunderstorms this week as the summer monsoonal flow has brought some moisture. Unfortunately, the flow is from the southwest, coming over the mountains, where most of the moisture is squeezed out of it as it climbs the higher peaks. 

Prices will be high in the fall and on into winter. We've got to start recognizing that climate change, no matter what the cause, will require lots of changes on our part. If we ignore it, we'll have lots of sand to bury our collective heads in. 

I was hoping to write on the patio this summer, but it has been so hot I have to move indoors before lunch, so I've just kept my work area at the dining room table. We have a swamp cooler that keeps the house cool during the hot part of the day, so I don't notice the heat. Surely there's a poem in all that heat and devastation of the crops. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

News from the patio

Well, I couldn't think of what else to write. Putting down another lame excuse in the title of this post seemed ... well ... lame. The past two months have been like that old Chinese curse, "interesting times." It seemed for a time that all of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah were on fire. Our sunsets were gorgeously red from the layers of smoke in the air.

The wildfire in Colorado Springs suddenly blew up one afternoon and swept down off the mountains to devastate 350 homes.

wildfire gets hungry
eats through forest and then homes
many homes destroyed

Each night, the lead stories on the news were the fires. The weather guessers would point out the fires on their maps and then give the usually dismal forecast for weather, rain or calm, that would aid the firefighters. 

wildfires burn on
light up local weather maps
like huge lightning bugs  

All of that happened as we went through the hottest May and June in a long time. We had something like 14 days above 90 degrees and five in a row of over 100, two consecutive days of 105. Set lots of records we'd just as soon not see broken any time soon. The heat combined with lot of smoke in the air--each morning when I stepped out into the back yard with the dogs, the smell of fires was heavy in the air.

I didn't realize how the heart attack a year and a half ago had reduced my tolerance to heat and bad air. Combined, they knocked my just about off my feet. I had to stay indoor much more than normal, and I was tuckered out much earlier than usual. Guess that's a wake-up call that I need to be much more careful about the temperature and stay out of the sun on warmer days.

I've moved my office to the patio on these wonderful mornings when the air is still cool and there's often a slight breeze. If it gets too warm, however, around noon I need to take it back inside. I even have trouble napping when the temp get too hot. Fortunately, most of the larger wildfires have been contained and we're getting a bit more moisture in the mountains where the fires have been burning. It's still hot, but at least the air has little smoke in it.

Yesterday morning I came out on the back steps a bit before 6 with Walker, the new puppy, and as I sat there with a cuppa, I noticed a crescent moon, just a tiny sliver, above the trees to the east. Then I noticed that Venus was near the moon, just a bit below it. It inspired a haiku:

the moon and Venus
shine from the eastern dawn sky
they wait for the sun

The morning before, I also noticed the thin moon and write another haiku about it. 

a thin silver moon
looks down on sun-gilded leaves
and I watch with awe

I'm normally out early in the morning to take Walker out to "do his business." He's good about making it through the night now. He was four months old on July 4th and has grown a bunch since we brought him home at two months. 

Walker and Principessa, our 8-year-old bichon on the day we brought him home:

And here they are with Walker at 4 months: 

You can see that he now dwarfs his sister and is growing like a weed. He now weighs about 27 pounds compared to the 9 when we brought him home. I expect he'll double his weight before he stops growing. Principessa is steady at about 15 pounds. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

More Lame Excuses

Every excuse for not writing here sooner just seems lamer than the one I thought of earlier, so I guess I'll desist and not write any. I just haven't gotten around to it.  I'm sorry sir! No excuse sir!! I won't let it happen again, sir! There, now that I've said that, I can get on with the good stuff.

First some really good news. We have a new puppy, Walker, named for my mother-in-law. It was her maiden name. It also seemed appropriate since he and I will be walking a lot together. He's a Goldendoodle, a cross between a Golden Retriever and a Standard Poodle, for those of you who have never heard of one. Here's a picture of Walker inside by himself.

Kathy think's his face looks like a lion, and I guess it does. Here he is with his now sister, Principessa, the Bichon. You can see that he's just slightly smaller now.

 Principessa isn't thrilled at this point because, after all, she's a princess and shouldn't have to put up with a commoner sharing her space and humans. She's tried to establish dominance over Walker, but he has so much energy she just waits until he falls asleep after playing so hard and then rules her domain again. Here she is asserting her right to be the one sitting on Kathy's lap. Note that Walker is asleep.

Here's this morning's haiku. It might be a bit fuzzy as I spent a bit of time during the night taking dogs out into the night to do their business and trying to get Walker to go to sleep rather than walk all over the bed. Yes, he's allowed on the bed. I put a box by the bed to have him sleep in, but the noise of his whining and crying would have kept neighbors on all sides awake, so we invited him to share the bed with the princess.

My next post will be about the poetry workshop I'm currently taking, the haiku workshop I just finished, and the WyoPoets workshop in Casper this past weekend.

Speaking of haiku, here's one I wrote this morning when I brought Walker down to my bathroom while I was shaving because he was howling at being left alone in the kitchen.

our puppy Walker
sits and watches as I shave — 
eyes full of wonder 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Reflections on a recent birthday

Well, this is a leap year, and I was born on February 29th, so I had a real birthday this year. I'm still a teenager, just turned 19. We traveled down to Denton, Texas, to share birthdays with our daughter, Barbara, whose birthday is February 26th. When she was living at home, we used to celebrate both birthdays on one day, usually hers. My birthday became even more special when I retired on it four years ago. Thought that was a wonderful present for myself. Still do.

I woke up in the middle of the night in the Inn we stayed at in Denton thinking about turning from 75 to 76. For me, 75 sounded so much better than 76. I couldn't get back to sleep because a poem started forming in my mind--damned subconscious keeps me awake by passing stuff to my conscious mind when I least want it to. I had most of this poem in my mind before I could get back to sleep. When I was able to work on it, I got it pretty much in the form it's in now.

Some thoughts on turning 76
I really liked being 75, 
and wonder how good 76 will be. 
Much better than the alternative. 

And better than shrimpy 74,
with 4 who lifts its arms to try 
to be as tall as 7 is.

But see the numbers in 75.
They stand erect and tall and square;
the few, the proud, Marine dress blue.

And 75 was a milestone year, 
three quarters of a century old, 
and 25 years in AARP.

Beware the 6 in 76. 
Its back is bent with age and grief, 
a man who shuffles with a cane. 

So when, I think, friends ask my age,
I’ll just stand proud and tall and jive 
and tell them that I’m 75. 

Spring is trying to happen here in Denver, but winter isn't giving up easily. We had three days in a row of 60 degree temps only to see the bottom fall out yesterday. It was 40 degrees colder for the high. I've been writing some haiku about the weather and seasons and the approaching full moon.

flat light of winter 
low clouds no sun dreary day 
makes us wish for spring 

the moon waxes large 
growing round as if pregnant 
her child will be spring 

spring peeks in the door
puddles warm air melting snow
but winter still reigns 

Just finished reading a verse novel just like epic poetry of old, Odyssey, Iliad, Il Paradiso, Paradise Lost. Its title is Ludlow and is written in iambic pentameter about the mining strikes in the early 20th Century and the bloodshed when the Colorado National Guard was sent there to break up the strikers' tent camp. David Mason, the Colorado poet laureate wrote Ludlow and did a magnificent job of telling this tale of hardship early in Colorado's history. If you are interested in poetry and history, here's a chance to read a contemporary epic poem. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I attend a poetry class

I've been looking around Denver for some time now for a poetry class so I can mix it up with other poets, have my work critiqued, and learn more about writing poetry. I'm going on Monday evenings to Lighthouse Writers, a non-profit group in town that has been around for 15 years or so. I've enjoyed the class because each week we get an assignment to write a poem based on some guidance from the workshop leader. Those exercised have kicked me out of my rut, and I've written a couple of poems I think are fairly good.

The latest exercise, one I'll hand in read in class for comment comes from an idea I've had germinating for a couple of years but haven't been able to get a good start on. I've made a couple of lame starts that seem to head off down the rabbit hole. This exercise was to write a "stream of consciousness" poem, described as letting the mind go where it will to create the draft and then revise to make it worthwhile. So I sat down with my computer and did a free writing exercise in which I just wrote for about 15 minutes trying to gather thoughts about the topic. I let that exercise sit for a day or two and ruminated on it.

Then I started the poem, revising many times, cutting and pasting as I moved one major section ahead of where it was and cutting lines and words. I finally have a poem I think it pretty good. My mentor, Chris, up in Montana, looked at it and made a suggestion that really helped it. She stumbled over some of the same phrasing I stumbled over. The difference is that she was willing to point it out while I was willing to just ignore it. It was too hard to fix.

The poem is based on the remains of a homestead from the 1890s on a ridge line at the Plains Center where I volunteer. The only signs that someone once lived there are a few depressions in the prairie, some broken china, a rusted kettle, a porcelain pan that someone used for target practice, and a couple of piles of rolled up barbed wire.

We have a little bit of information about the family that lived there, but I wanted to use the site as the basis of a poem more about the hardships of the life of a homesteader, the courage it took to be a homesteader, and the very real possibility of failure, including death from the harsh conditions on the prairie.

So here's the poem I'll hand in tomorrow evening.

A Slight Depression 
This grass-filled hole in the ground 
is more a slight depression, half the size 
of a grave. A hundred twenty years ago 
a widow and three sons homesteaded here. 
Their world was beautiful. Snow-capped 
mountains to the west and infinite prairie 
in every other direction. Just a quarter mile 
east a line of cottonwoods marks a small 
ephemeral creek. A fading trail meanders 
down the ridge to the creek, showing where
they hauled water those first years.

The woman boiled strong coffee every morning 
for her family in that rusted kettle sitting there 
half hidden in the grass. She washed dishes 
in that porcelain pan lying upside down 
and shot full of bullet holes. Winter evenings, 
when work was done, she sipped dandelion tea 
from that shattered china cup. The two brown, 
rusted, snarls of barbed wire over there kept 
her milk cow out of the vegetable garden. 

Did drought leave them no garden, the mule 
and cattle dead, unable to “proof” their claim? 
Or an arctic blizzard overwhelm them, 
unable to pull water from the frozen well, 
unable to retrieve food from the root cellar, 
unable to save their animals and themselves? 

Where did they go? Why did they go? 
Their sod home long melted into the prairie, 
leaving only a tea kettle, a porcelain pan, 
a shattered china cup, a roll of wire, 
and a slight depression in the prairie 
to mark their passage. 

© 2012 Art Elser 

Even today, the life of a rancher or farmer on the prairie is not easy. I have trouble imagining life with no ability to get medical aid quickly, no help for drought, no way to live through a howling blizzard. And many of those folks came out with no farming experience thinking that 160 acres in Colorado was the same as 160 acres in Ohio or New York. They had no idea of the dryness, wind, poor soil, and hardships ahead of them. I am filled with admiration for those homesteaders who were able to work the land and "proof" it for their claim. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Is it 2012 already??

Where has 2011 gone? I know, I know, for a big piece of it I was in a drug-induced stupor, more intense than my normal stupor. Looking back, there was a long time when holding a thought in my brain for more than a minute was impossible. And trying to hold two thoughts was even more impossible. But we're through that now, and I'm back to my normal bumbling self.

This past Saturday, I went out with my usual birding buddies at the Plains Center, and it was a spectacular morning. Because we have so many prairie dogs at the Center, we have lots of raptors. During the summer, raptors are busy building nests and feeding their nestlings and teaching the fledglings how to fly and hunt. And they defend a territory and drive off other competing raptors.

For instance a nesting pair of red-tailed hawks will drive off other red tails and any Swainson's or ferruginous hawks that wander through the area. It's fun to see them dive on each other and scream at them. But in the fall and winter, no one is nesting, so they tolerate other birds in their area.

As another example, bald eagles will defend an area roughly a mile in radius around their nest. At Barr Lake, where I used to volunteer, the nesting pair kept all other bald eagles off the lake during nesting season. This past month, someone counted 72 bald eagles on the lake. But, come February, the eagle pair will start their nest and mating activities and drive the other 70 off the lake.

So we counted three northern harriers, 7 red-tailed hawks, and 17 ferruginous hawks. In addition, we found four great-horned owls--we normally have only two in the area except when we have fledglings--and we were treated to five bald eagles, two white-headed adults and three mostly brown immature eagles with white markings on their underwings. And we were treated to watching one of the immature land in a cottonwood and munch on a prairie dog for his Sunday brunch. Nature's cycle in action.

Wow!! What a wonderful morning. Raptors are such strong fliers that they are beautiful to watch. And unlike sparrows and horned larks, they stay in sight much longer to allow one to admire them. I got home and was inspired to write a haiku about the birds:

beautiful raptors 
masters of the knife-edged dive
stealthy silent death

I promise to write more poetry this year and share it with you here in my blog. I had a poem accepted by a brand new online poetry journal, Open Window. Here it is:

Evening adagio

Last night, half an hour after sunset,
my dog barked me into the yard to play.
I looked up to see if bats were flying yet.

A few fluttered by in ones and twos.
I watched for a bit before I recognized
the loveliness of the evening light.

The sky shimmered, the luminescent sheen
of blue silk surrounding a Madonna's face,
wrapping her in a vibrant, holy light.

The sky held for a few moments, then
faded into a duller, sadder blue, finally
eclipsed by the gray of coming night.

I was reminded that beauty and sadness
are intertwined. Beauty awakens the soul
with wonder, but sadness must follow. 

For the soul cannot bear for long
beauty's exquisite flood of joy.

I think I've gone on long enough now, so I'll close. A very happy new year to any and all of you who happen on my blog.