Sunday, October 27, 2013

The joyfulness of a beautiful fall

It's the last Sunday in October and we're about halfway through fall. It is probably the most beautiful fall I've seen here in Denver. Perhaps it's that I'm getting older and taking the days more slowly and enjoying them more. Perhaps it's all the rain we had a couple of months back, rain that washed towns away, flooded farm fields, and ruined crops that had finally grown after several years of drought. Nature sure can be fickle.

I saw a neighbor walking back to his house, camera in hand, earlier this afternoon and decided the fall was pretty enough to capture it with my camera. This first picture is from our front yard across the street to a fire red maple in that same neighbor's yard. The golden leaves in the foreground are from the maple in our yard. And the elm to the right is still green

Here's a haiku I wrote about that blood red maple:

blood red maple tree
bright among the pale gold elms
princess and her court

My neighbor Andrew across the street, has a burning bush in his yard that is as brilliant as I've ever seen it. We have a couple of small ones, but nothing like this.

Our maples are not red at all, but a wonderful gold when in the full sunlight. Here are two at the front of our yard flanking the house. Note the lawn is green, except covered by the fall leaves from our maples and linden. 

I drove to the Air Force Academy a couple of weeks ago to help celebrate the 90th birthday of Jesse Gatlin, a retired brigadier general, who was my boss at the English department at the Academy. I used to drive that stretch of I-25 every day when I lived in the Springs and worked in Denver. On the way down that day I noticed the wonderful carpet of gamble's oak on the sides of the hills and buttes along the way. I've never seen all the leaves turned a the same time. Usually some are already brown and falling when others reach their peak. On this trip all were at their peak. Absolutely breath taking. 

red yellow rust hills 
brilliant in afternoon sun
summer says good bye 

And the birds are fleeing south now. I was out on the prairie, leading a tour along a grassy trail in a arroyo when I happened to look up to see a flight of large birds. I yelled for everyone to look up, and we watched and listened to this:

eighteen sandhill cranes 
warbling south against strong wind 
they slide to the west 

And this occurred to me as it does every time I hear cranes overhead: 

sandhill cranes fly south 
their calls reach some ancient need 
we want to join them 

And early one morning outside my favorite Starbucks as I walked in and happened to look up at a movement in the sunrise that caught my eye:

light brushes crow's wing 
feathers gilt by rising sun 
an instant of joy

And this fall has been a long instant of joy for me. But summer hasn't completely turned its back on us. Here, in Kathy's garden is a blooming rose bush. Leftover joy. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The return of the prodigal son

I have been away from this blog now for a year, the last post coming at the end of October last year. I thought I'd pose as a member of congress and do nothing for a year. I'm just a junior member, of course, so I've only been at this doing nothing for a bit. And I don't have the flair of a Ted Cruz to make sure no others can do anything either. As a result of the dithering of our congress, my son, Al, and his wife, Les, and other friends we have at BLM in Casper, WY, are on furlough. And the national parks are shut, leaving one of the two routes into and out of Estes Park in Colorado closed--the route goes through the park on Trail Ridge Road.

During a large part of this past year I have been stuck with my poetry, only recently getting more written. One of the first ones I did write, came to me as I read something about the Cuban Missile Crisis way back in October, 1962. I was in the Air Force then and flying KC-135 Tankers then. We were on alert almost constantly and when we weren't, we flew missions to refuel B-52s who carried nuclear bombs and were constantly aimed at the USSR and it's allies. Here's a picture of a refueling.

We did all our refueling then at night because of the dictates of those particular mission. Doing this in the dark over the Atlantic Ocean was exciting, to say the least.

The days were tense because of the quarantine our Navy put around Cuba to stop Russian cargo ships carrying missiles to Cuba. The missiles were capable of putting nuclear warheads on the US, and the tension between the two nations was severe. Here's the poem I wrote to try to capture the feelings we crew members had then.

October 24, 1962, 3:45 AM 
We’re headed west at forty thousand feet 
above the blackness of Atlantic cold. 
A tiny light on the ocean miles below 
marks a freighter bound for who knows where, 
and blinking red and green lights just ahead
come from another tanker just like us. 
An hour ago, we each were pumping fuel 
into an eight-jet bomber with a crew 
of six and bellies crammed with atom bombs. 

While thousands of miles away, directly south,
a fleet of Russian boats draws near a line 
of US warships who have quarantined 
Cuba’s ports. If the ships don’t turn around, 
the bombers we refueled will fly on east, 
descend, and level Russian cities with 
their nuclear bombs. And as their bombs explode, 
Soviet missiles will land on bases we 
are headed for, and vaporize them, with 
our loved ones, in a sun-bright flash of light. 

We cruise along this quiet night, maintain 
our altitude, our thoughts, unspoken fears,
and pray the light we see this coming dawn 
will be the peaceful sunrise in the east. 

My poetry has picked up again lately. Events have been triggering events from my past and they have formed the basis of my work. A friend and I were talking about how our dogs behaved and I remembered a husky we had years ago. She was about the size of a coyote and not an indoor dog or even much of a family dog. But she and I used to run together, miles and miles on weekends. Here are my memories of her and our having to put her down when her arthritis got too painful.

Tara's Call of the Wild 
I lift our husky onto the vet's table,
careful not to put pressure on her 
arthritic hips. she lays quietly as if 
knowing what's about to happen.
I speak softly, hand on her flank. 
The vet holds the needle, searches 
for a vein and slides it in. He looks 
at me and I nod. A few shallow 
breaths and then a long, last exhale. 
I cry as I feel her go still, something 
she never does on our morning runs. 

Tara pulls hard on the leash 
to get me to run faster to the spot 
where I slip off the leash to let her 
run freely. She runs through meadows 
finding things to investigate, coyotes
to play with, Hereford bulls to chase 
away to protect me. 

She often doesn't come when I 
call her to slip the leash back on. 
She gives me her Mona Lisa smile 
and runs off to spend the next three 
or four days visiting ranches. 
A call. Tara is at their ranch. 
She smiles as I put her in the car, 
happy with her days of freedom.  

When I feel her relax, her last breath 
gone, I know her wild animal spirit 
is now free to roam meadows, forever 
smiling, running, chasing, never 
coming to my call to go back home. 

I think another reason I was stuck--and stand by for some shameless self promotion--is that I had a chapbook accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press in Georgetown, KY. The poems are those of my days of combat in Vietnam and the memories and flashbacks and nightmares those days triggered over the years.

The book is called We Leave the Safety of the Sea and can be ordered directly from Finishing Line at When you get to the website, search for Elser in the search field at the top of the page.

It is now fall, we've had our first frost--I spent part of the morning cutting down the tomato bushes that have given us lots of yummy fruit for the past weeks. They were slow getting started because of cool weather, but then a burst of high 80 degree and some 90 degree days got them ripe.