In neauxmad.com you will find my travel piece “Finding Zen In Searchlight: A Haibun”…..
Growing up I recall countless afternoons after church and the proverbial Sunday lunch putting on hiking boots to walk the trails in the nearby wildlife refuge. My dad, of course, was the “hiking master” as we took our stride up the mountainside. The party of hikers besides my dad and me would include my sister, my mother who often joined in reluctantly, and maybe a neighborhood friend or two if we could twist a few arms. We’d fill the canteens with water and set out for an afternoon of adventure among the wooded footpaths and the grassy, rocky meadowlands. Walking over leaves and branches, detouring around streams and boulders, our band of walking warriors always found excitement along the way. Any sighting of a scissortail or a large bird that we were certain was a bald eagle would simply send us over the moon. We might see a buffalo and an elk. My memory of those times lingers on happy hours spent walking trails lined with shrub oak and holly berries, cedar and pine needles. I can close my eyes and smell those Sunday afternoons. My dad, without a doubt, was motivated on those hikes among the Wichitas by, not only, a time to savor nature’s beauty, but also, a chance to explore, to feel adventure, to imagine life far beyond the horizon. To widen the expanse of what we could explore within driving distance on a Sunday afternoon, our summer vacations often took us to the Rockies of Colorado. There the hikes took on a majestic vibe. We were beyond the reach of home. We were serious hikers now setting out from the trailheads surrounding Estes Park. The summer mountain journeys were a way to venture together as time moved on and family vacations like these would end. Yet, what was lasting would be the sense of wonder my dad had shared with me. He’d talk about geography as more than a physical location but rather a state of mind, places not bound by borders and endless worlds to discover. To look at life as a chance to marvel at its beauty, its mystery and to seek new horizons, to wander different places was his wish for me and my siblings. His travelogues about some of our summer vacations were published in those early travel magazines. He referred to our trips as pilgrimages and I quote “Already we could feel the exuberance that goes with vacation time. We had our road maps marked…rain dampened neither our gear or our spirits…we had lingered almost too long, drinking in the pleasure of being roaming gypsies.” Today I’ve volksmarched in Germany and France and walked the beaches in Hawaii and California. I set out mornings to run the trail by my house all the while looking around for the next adventure and still in awe of this world, still feeling the magic of what’s beyond. I say, take a hike!
While I have loved wonderful men in my life, you, Chad, are the man of my dreams. Not long ago you were there. You were waiting for me to come home. I see you through the window. You sit by the lamp, patiently waiting in the dimly lit room. You look at ease with your long legs crossed. You are tall and very handsome, in the prime of your good looks. I want to run in and throw my arms around you and hold you, but I hesitate and stand back. I hang on to this moment of having you nearby. As I stare I recall how we talked the last days we were to have. Behind that aloof, cool demeanor you were, Chad, a young man so sensitive and kind. Your aura captured all that makes for charisma. I wonder if you knew what a great guy you were. I remember a day we’d met for lunch and you listened while I lamented about a relationship that was going sideways. I was caught up in my own situation as I found solace in that unwavering bond between us. How I loved your quiet strength. Time with you felt good as we shared a sandwich. After awhile you spoke and offered up some advice which went something like, let things take its course without a struggle. Wise counsel from a son to his mother. I look for you as I peer through the window again. My heart longs to be with you, to share, to talk, but it is not to be. Through the window once more I see you are gone. I awake. Your presence, your gentle soul fills the room and lingers there. Your paintings hang from the walls and your treasured pieces of pottery are showcased throughout the house. Fifteen years you’ve been gone. Some days it seems like yesterday, some days it seems like an eternity. There is no day I don’t dream of you. Still missing you, Chad, man of my dreams.
When I heard Tracy Letts was developing his Pulitzer prize-winning play August: Osage County for the big screen, I was thrilled. I saw August: Osage County when it played on the LA stage. “All roads lead to home.” I could see the country, the sweeping prairie, the old hills encrusted with huge boulders, the gnarled oak trees and the miles and miles of blue sky with breathtaking sunsets. I knew the place Letts revealed. The conflicted characters and how they have endured heartbreak while looking for happiness seemed like people I knew.
Tracy Letts is the son of Oklahoma writer, Billie Letts, whose works many of us know and love. Her best-selling novel Where the Heart Is was made into a movie starring Natalie Portman and Ashley Judd. Both mother and son write about women, women who stare down fear and bitter disappointment to journey forward and rebuild their lives. The expectant teen mom abandoned in an Oklahoma Walmart by her boyfriend is mother Billie’s beloved story. After the unexpected death of the family patriarch, Tracy’s story centers around three sisters who have come home to Pawhuska, Oklahoma for their father’s funeral and to witness their mother’s sufferings. During the course of the play Letts explores the depth of intertwined familial bonds. Letts readily admits he used the title of a poem by dear family friend and mentor, the late Howard Starks, for his title, August: Osage County. Starks’ poem reveals a strong sense of family and place.
My own story begins in a place not far from Osage County. Comanche County in the summertime when I have come home to visit is hot for days and then it will rain. Days become cool and breezy. The local Wichita Mountains are full with flowers of Indian blanket and Mexican sage among the tall grass. The buffalo and longhorn are lazy after finding shade among the oak while clouds lay low and gather. My sisters and I have walked along the trails and made picnics of wine coolers and pimento cheese. We have escaped to Austin and Santa Fe to savor summer’s last days, to listen to music and hit the dance floor, to buy turquoise and share the beauty of Western art.
Just like the women of Where the Heart Is and August: Osage County, my sisters and I, the three of us, have stared down fear and we have rebuilt lives in the face of loss and grief, celebration and joy. Life remains wondrous in every moment.
I was a reluctant grandmother. To be a grandparent was not something I resisted but life was good, full with friends and personal interests. Forgotten was all that baby, little kid stuff, cloth books and rattle toys. On the day though that Lucy Lee happened, life became rich and enlivened anew. Grand parenthood is the grand adventure.
Like a splashy wave hitting the shore, she arrived on a cool breezy September evening in Newport Beach, Hoag Hospital. Lucy Lee enchants me. She runs to greet me. I rush to her. Mutual adoration is the special phenomenon that is grand parenthood. We head to the beach with a skip as she begins to tell me all that matters.
“Lucy go lightly wherever you go, light as a lark, from your head to your toe. In slippers you float and in sandals you flow, so Lucy, go lightly, wherever you go.” Dennis Lee
What I admire in women who take on life’s challenges can be found in their unyielding spirit. I love the story of Wilma Mankiller. She was born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma in 1945 and grew up in San Francisco. Her father was Cherokee and her mother Dutch/Irish. At school she was not accepted by her peers and looking to the San Francisco Indian Center for refuge, she found her way. She became an activist for the rights of Native Americans and took part in the Occupy Alcatraz movement in 1969. Knowing that she wanted to bring aid to her own tribe, she returned to her native Oklahoma in the ’70s. In time, she was elected Chief of her tribe, the Cherokee Nation. She credited her many leadership skills to her time spent in California involved in the causes of Native Americans. She advanced her tribal community with education and health services, water and infrastructure improvements. She lived by the Cherokee saying “be of good mind,” now considered positive thinking.
Her husband of 24 years, Charlie Soap, said he tried to impress her on their first date by taking her to Tulsa for a hotdog and a Rambo movie only to find out later she didn’t like hotdogs or Rambo movies. They shared sharp wit and laughed alot. He was the love of her life. When Gloria Steinem married in 2000, her wedding was performed in Oklahoma at the home of Wilma Mankiller. Wilma Mankiller and Gloria Steinem were collaborators and dear friends. Mankiller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton in 1998. When she died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer, President Obama wrote, “she served as an inspiration to women in Indian Country.”