Posts Tagged ‘New Mexico’

Visitors

May 25, 2014

Why is human nature so perverse?

Praying for rain, hoping for rain, wishing for rain, deploring the drought, finally it rains.

Now on the third successive day of grey skies and autumn chilliness, instead of continued joy at the moisture, there’s a sliver of … what is it exactly?
Resentment?
Regret?
For the absence of sun, or for coolness when I’m ready to wear my light summer clothes?

I’m remembering the first summer I lived in Sapello, an historically wet period that hasn’t been matched in the quarter century since. I never did get into my light clothing that year. I wore long sleeves and often a cotton sweater the entire summer season. I have pictures – old fashioned print ones, not digital to be shared here – of the flooding sheets of water carving gullies in my driveway and turning the lower pasture into a lake.

It’s unlikely that this summer will prove to be anything like that one in 1990, which followed the coldest winter in decades and completed a most memorable weather year. My rational mind knows that several weeks of continued rainy weather will only just barely put a dent in our parched conditions. My spirit is delighted to see a return of the long-missing summer pattern of overcast nights, clearing mornings and afternoon thunderheads spilling precious rain. The little, irrational corner of being that feels chilly will just have to suck it up and put on a sweater.

I used to know that outdoor activities like riding my horse needed to be completed in the morning.
I used to ensure that rain boots rode in the trunk of my car (boots in the boot), and that I had an umbrella always on hand, from May to September.

Those days and those habits are long gone. Is it time to bring them out of the closet of memory, press them into freshness, and begin wearing them once more?

I’ve been seeing a different mid-sized bird at the feeder the past few weeks. Orange chest, tan belly, orange spot on the top of a head striped with deep brown and a bit of white, patterns of brown and white running head to tail on the back.

I am a ?

I am a ?

Can you tell I’m not a birder? I seem to remember having lent my bird identification book out and apparently not gotten it back. At least, it’s not on the shelf where I expected to find it.

Another view

Another view

I do wonder if these new visitors are indicative of a shift in weather (and wind) patterns that has broader meaning, perhaps an alert that we’re resuming the nearly forgotten routine of summer afternoon rains?

Cute, n'est-ce pas?

Cute, n’est-ce pas?

For now, I can only note that my day unfolded with repeated short downpours across a wide swath of northern and central New Mexico, perfectly timed. When I needed to load the car, it was clear. While I ate lunch in my favorite Chinese restaurant, it rained. Shopping in the big indoor mall in Albuquerque, it rained. During the two hour drive home, it drizzled, but when I needed to bring my purchases into the house, it was clear.
Who could ask for more?

Adapting

May 4, 2014

Today, I started my day before the sun came up, chatting with a friend in Lebanon via Facebook.

A simple statement about an activity that is far from extraordinary in today’s connected world.

But this is me – who remembers not having a telephone when I first moved to New Mexico, because there weren’t enough lines in Lamy to connect everyone.

I’m grateful for having experienced that sort of unconnected living; I learned patience and trust and self-reliance and a number of other qualities important to building and sustaining relationships.

None of which negates my current pleasure at connecting over huge distances, easily, now.

I’m equally glad the contact today was via written word; I would have had a hard time dealing with spoken conversation in the attenuated form likely to occur at such a distance. This past week I’ve been dealing with clogged ears – not sure if it’s allergies or an infection that has caused blockage, noticeably worse on the left side.

How limiting it is, to be obliged to hold a phone to my right ear and therefore not be free to use my right, dominant, hand during the conversation. Oh, I’ve tried holding the phone across my body, with my left hand, in order to write down information being given to me. It’s possible, but remarkably uncomfortable!

I’ve also had to alter my eating habits. Why, you ask? Because crunchy foods are now painfully loud inside my head. If my condition were to become permanent, would I adapt, learn to tune out the chewing noise? Probably, in the same way I learned, shortly after arrival in Saigon, to tune out the persistent noise of the cicada-like insects that created a permanent background concert in the trees. We kids enjoyed tormenting new arrivals (as I was tormented) by calling attention to the persistent chittering, just at the time that the newbie’s brain was beginning to accommodate, and thus cease to notice, the sounds.

In the Trees

In the Trees

We humans are marvels of accommodation. We live in the most diverse environments, we survive extremes of privation, we come in such a variety of sizes, colors and skill sets. . . No wonder accommodating to one another is considered to be such a virtue.

No wonder, either, that learning when to draw the line, when to limit adaptation, when to say enough, I want/need/seek to stand apart – no wonder learning how to express one’s integrity can be a challenge. Especially, it seems, for women. Even today’s emancipated, modern women. My Lebanese correspondent was writing me on her smart phone, waiting in the Beirut airport to fly to Dubai for a work day. And questioning her right to step away from a relationship because she’s not yet ready to “settle” for. . .

Accommodate, adapt, be flexible, accept what is.
Go for it, “be all you can be”, make the most of your time, your talents, your opportunities.
Conflicting imperatives, challenging us to know which one to apply in which situations.

Is it yet another sign of our adaptability that we can implement both types of behaviors? Or is it a sign of our integrity that we manage to achieve a balance between seeming contradictions?

I have my own answer to that question. I’ll let you find yours.

Let It Rain

April 19, 2014

It’s the end of a long, productive but tiring day and I had no idea what to write about for this week’s post.
I opened email from a dear friend, to find a single word – “rain”.

Perhaps because my last email to him announced happily that it was raining outside? For all of five minutes, it actually did rain, hard enough to be heard from inside the house.

Rain – its long absence from our lives, the urgent need for it – is on many minds. An elderly client stated that damp weather – like cold – makes her bones ache but she’d welcome the ache if it brought water for our thirsty earth.

Driving into town (I live about 15 miles out) earlier this evening, I remarked on the dusty, silted, sadly brown fields and talked about the Depression Era dust bowl with my companion. In that area of our community, on a windy day, the air is almost unbreathable, thick with topsoil being scoured from the land. Ninety plus years along, and it seems we haven’t made any progress at all toward preventing another dust bowl.

Hmm… the saying is that you attract what you give your attention to. Perhaps the problem is that too many of us have been giving attention to the drought, when what we should be doing is meditating on rain, snow, lakes, springs, moisture in all its myriad and lively forms.

Like the pond I discovered beside the road back into the mountains, en route to do an assessment with a client who lives in a tiny camper trailer on a twelve acre parcel of wooded mountain land. Several ducks floated on its surface, undisturbed by a chorus of frogs loud enough to be heard over my car’s engine. More than twenty years of living not far away from the area, and I’d never heard that the pond existed. My client informed me that it’s not a year around water, that by June it will be dry.

So think about rain. Think about all the different types of rain I’ve experienced.

The first that comes to mind is in Saigon. My usual form of transport was a cyclo-pousse (French for the combination of bicycle and push, describing a bike with a seat in front, sitting on two wheels).

Cyclo Drivers, Saigon 1957

Cyclo Drivers, Saigon 1957

The faster, noisier variety were called cyclomoto, did not have a carriage cover, and so could not enclose the rider. They were better adapted to carrying large loads.

Motocyclo - Saigon 1957

Motocyclo – Saigon 1957

During the rainy season, the cyclo driver would deploy, from behind the seat, a sort of umbrella cover to which tarps could be attached, ostensibly to keep the rider dry. You can see the cover, minus its surrounding tarp, on the central cyclo. Being enclosed did help a bit, but one still got soaked from below, as furiously fast rains pounded the pavement and rebounded up to a height of two feet or more. There was really no way to be dry if one went outdoors during the downpour. Fortunately, the rains came on a predictable cycle, gradually working their way around the twenty-four hour clock as the season progressed. One could even safely plan to hold an outdoor party at night, during the part of the season when it rained in the morning.

Any wonder that I questioned a local station’s weatherman about his use of the term monsoon for the nearly non-existent rains of the  summer season in New Mexico? Turns out the term describes patterns of air movement which, in wet countries, produce rain and which – rarely – do the same here.

Think about rain.

The British have a wonderful word – mizzle – for the thick, misty, almost-rain conditions associated with foggy London nights. I remember walking across my college campus (Swarthmore, in Eastern Pennsylvania) in a mizzle, bundled against a wet that somehow penetrated all my layers and left me dampened and chilled. There was a beauty to the campus on those wet nights, lamplight haloed by mist showing my way through the rose garden and along winding, tree lined paths. It took several cups of hot cocoa to thaw me, when I reached the warmth of the student center.

The first summer – 1990 – that I lived in my present home in Sapello, I wondered what I had done, buying a home in what felt like a flood zone. My previous residence, on eleven acres southeast of Santa Fe in the Galisteo basin, was almost 1000 feet lower in altitude, and definitely in a more desert-appearing landscape. We received the blessing of summer thunder storms during the years I lived in Galisteo. Great arcs of lightening would leap across the sky, crash into the Ortiz Mountains, and unleash water onto the prairie at a rate that could be absorbed. An occasional gully washer would plow a furrow down my drive, but was always sufficiently short-lived not to do damage.

The summer of 1990 in Sapello was different. It started raining in May and seemed not to stop, not to show the sun, not to warm enough to wear lightweight summer clothing. It rained and rained and rained. My uphill neighbor’s catch pond overflowed and sheets of water poured down across my property, overflowing the culvert and – twice – washing out my driveway completely. I had to have another neighbor come in with his backhoe to rebuild the drive, installing a larger culvert in the process. My horses’ hooves softened and began to rot, as they were unable to escape standing in sopping mud. I scrambled to create a cement pad and shelter for them, before they suffered serious harm. Try laying concrete in a persistent downpour!

Meteorologists tell us that the 90’s were an exceptionally wet period for this area, not a standard against which to rate our current situation. There certainly has not been a summer like 1990 in the past 15 years. I’m gently teased by a friend (native of a tropically wet climate) about my attention to our weather, to the condition of the prairie, to what I see on the distant skyline. He has yet to live through a wildfire summer. He tells me that a member of his church regularly petitions the congregation to pray for rain.

Please join me in a collective focus on wetness falling from the sky onto the lands of the Southwest.

In reciprocation, I will join you – if you live in the Midwest – in a collective focus on calm air and balmy days of recovery from the storms and ice of this past winter.

Together, may we find a better balance and harmony in all aspects of our lives.

**************

PS: Between writing yesterday and posting tonight it rained, intermittently, for several twenty minute periods. The air is cool and damp, the ground moist and there are a few puddles glistening on the highway. I see no stars nor moon tonight – rain clouds hover overhead.

Dieu nous benisse. 🙂

 

A Piece of a Past

March 2, 2014

Dear Much Appreciated Readers:

I have driven something over 600 miles between Wednesday morning and Saturday afternoon of this past week, reflecting a busy-ness that has left me no time to write. Please accept as this week’s post, a short essay I wrote last year and stored as a back-up piece, to be used in just this sort of situation.

A Memory of Tea

The first English tea I remember having was on the lawn of an elegant house in Victoria, British Columbia. My mother and I were on our zigzag way from Washington DC to join my father at his post as an economic officer at the U.S. embassy in Saigon, Vietnam. Back before anyone in the U.S had even heard of Vietnam. Just after that country’s successful fight for independence from France. I was twelve.

We children had just finished up a game of croquet. Tea included jam tarts and my first encounter with scones and cream. I remember the tea cups had roses on them, and were of such delicately thin china that the late afternoon sun shone through them. My mother gloried in experiencing a scene that could have come from her favorite Jane Austen novel. I gloried in the fact that she was, temporarily, enjoying herself, with her attention distracted from its usual petulant unhappiness with everything, including me.

My next English afternoon tea was in steamy Saigon, at the home of the British ambassador. His wife had taught her Vietnamese cook to make the pastries and scones, but there was no cream available. Tinned milk did not substitute. We ate the scones with a thick, rich marmalade instead.

I don’t recall having a proper tea again until some five years later. A friend of my father’s (both left Germany as young men, my father to settle in the U.S. but Eric to establish himself in England) had become a successful surgeon heading a hospital outside Sheffield. My parents were taking a driving vacation through southern England, from my father’s posting in Paris. I needed an operation on my wrist. “Uncle” Eric and his wife Hilda came down to collect me, welcoming me to their home with a full high tea served in their lovely back garden. How quickly did I learn not to insult the flower-filled space by calling it a yard (as it would be in the U.S.) And how quickly I also learned not to insult “Aunt” Hilda’s special face flannels by calling them by the American term wash cloths! I remember the Sheffield tea was served in pottery mugs, and the meal which accompanied them had a meat and cheese pie and salad, in addition to its pastries and scones with jam and cream.

Returned to the U.S. for college (university, to a Brit) and graduate school, I eventually settled in northeastern New Mexico, over 7000 feet high up in the foot hills of the Rocky Mountains. High plains desert landscapes, mostly brown – especially in the past ten years of drought – fit better with rodeo cookouts than English tea. Until my friend Anne Bradford arrived in town, to open The Carriage House Bed and Breakfast and offer afternoon tea. She made them fancy, a multi-tiered sandwich and pastry tower for each table, choice of at least three different types of tea, sausage rolls and cucumber sandwiches, scones with cream or jam, and strawberries. Her collection of teacups decorated the public rooms of the huge Victorian house, when they weren’t part of the meal service.

Anne grew up in Ardingly, in Sussex, and managed an elegant hotel in San Diego, California, before moving to Las Vegas, New Mexico (the original Las Vegas, the old one dating back to the 1600s, not the new gambling center in Nevada). Obviously adaptable herself, Anne succeeded in making traditional English teas seem perfectly appropriate to the old Southwest. They became a popular way to celebrate a birthday, graduation, or other special event. And they became a taste of home for the students from Great Britain who attended the United World College (UWC) located in nearby Montezuma.

After Anne closed the B and B, and went to work for the Plaza Hotel, she continued making teas available. For the birthday of one of my staff, we all dressed and celebrated in the hotel’s Victorian elegance.

Tea at the Plaza Hotel

Tea at the Plaza Hotel

We were among the last groups to enjoy the event before Anne left the hotel – which subsequently changed ownership.

Now, when I welcome UWC students, I fix tea in my own home. The atmosphere is far more casual, and the meal is possibly less authentic. But we do have pretty china cups, sandwiches, and plates of scones and cream. And we share my memories of a tradition that continues to span the world, linking anglophiles in jungles, in deserts, in vintage homes and in commercial hotels. Linking Sapello, New Mexico with Sheffield, England and all the far flung places where afternoon tea has been – and often still is – enjoyed.

Warm Furries

November 30, 2013

Five doves are fluffily hunched on the gate to the long pasture, seeming to emit waves of discontent because their bird food plate is piled high with snow rather than seed. I will probably succumb to the pressure shortly, and wade around the house with a bowl of feed for them. I doubt that my steps will imitate my Shih Tzu’s curious snow shuffle, though. I’ve been watching Shian Shung coming toward me down the drive, each front paw’s forward motion initiating a wave of snow rippling slightly sideward. It is the strangest looking movement, suggesting he has suddenly acquired the widely feathered feet of a nun pigeon. Or as though he is swimming his front legs through the fluffy white stuff that is belly deep for him.

De-iced

De-iced

My Min-Pin, Doodles, being a short hair, seems able to bounce through the same drifts, almost as though he’s walking on top of the snow instead of wading through it. Not any taller than Shian Shung, he has more of his minimal height in his legs, and an overall springier step. When excited, he can easily bounce to shoulder height on my Lab/Collie cross. And does so frequently, trying to get Blackjack’s attention away from the food bowl, gnawed deer bones, or the treats in my hand.

Aw, please...

Aw, please…

Doodles survived in his earliest life as a dumpster diver – he was about six months old when I collected him from a distant ranch and brought him to live with the rest of my motley crew. Eighteen months of ample and regular food has not yet broken him of the need to be in charge of any edible in the vicinity. Fortunately, Blackjack has a tolerant demeanor, only rarely exerting his considerable might to retain possession of a favored goodie.

Blackjack in Charge

Blackjack in Charge

The fourth member of my canine family is an elderly toy poodle – like Blackjack and Doodles also a rescue – with more serious personality issues. I know nothing about his earlier life, but it cannot have been easy. He was found at death’s door, totally dehydrated, his fur invisible beneath a matting of burrs, his belly distended and sagging to the ground. He growled and snapped at every attempt to care for him, requiring sedation by the vet before medical attention and a total body shave. Damaged intestines, causing the sagging belly, seems likely to be the result of being hit by a car; the injury continues to cause him intermittent constipation.

Warrior newly clipped

Warrior newly clipped

If left by himself, Warrior whimpers ceaselessly, or barks non-stop for an hour or more. Six months after arrival, he began to let me pet or groom him. Diametrically opposite to Doodles, he is reluctant to accept treats, which he requires be set down in front of him, to consider at length, before he will venture a nibble. Consequently, he loses them to Doodles unless they are offered when the other three dogs are off exploring. Which happens reliably enough that Warrior does get treats, but is also unhappily alone for periods of the day.

Blackjack shows remarkable patience with the littles. He lets Doodles and Shian Shung play out attack strategies, his legs and ears the more common targets. He makes sure Warrior has the warmest spot on the porch, and tolerates Doodles’ determination to be first at the food bowls. I remember to give him an extra rub around the head and muzzle, and to tell him he is the senior, and most essential, member of the pack. His calm demeanor, his defining of the boundaries outside which the others should not roam, his lessons about what is and is not fit to eat, and his manner of greeting – or guarding against – visitors to my acres all combine to transmit the expectations I have set about tolerance, respect, and appropriate behavior.

The Littles

The Littles

Over the 40 years I’ve lived in rural settings here in northern New Mexico, my one consistent rule for all pets has been that they must get along with one another. Not like, not necessarily interact, but tolerate and make space for all who wind up calling my home theirs. As a result, I’ve had a dog who let newborn kittens nurse on her while their mother took a break from the constant demands of parenting. I have photos of a cat cuddling with a Bouvier de Flandres large enough to squash her if he’d rolled over. That same Bouvier encircled an escaped rabbit and kept it safely between his paws until I got home and returned Mr. Bunny to his cage.

Guarding the rabbit cages

Guarding the rabbit cages

The coincidence of Thanksgiving with the first day of Hanukkah – an event apparently not to reoccur for an enormously long time – allows me to celebrate my two favorite holidays in one. Favorite because both encourage not just thankfulness, but also appreciation of freedom, joy in new beginnings, and the pleasure of connecting across boundaries.

In a heap

In a heap

I am grateful to have observed these same feelings played out amongst my four-legged family members.
I am grateful to be reminded by my furry friends, each time I hunker down to pet and play with them, that I don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving or Hanukkah to participate in a demonstration of tolerance, respect, and appreciation.
They keep me sane, they make me welcome, they direct me back to balance when I start to tilt off center, they define home.
For all this, a lower reflection of the inner beauty being shown me by my spiritual Master, I am thankful.

Small World

November 24, 2013

Have you ever swapped “small world” stories?

Some are simple, like the appearance in the training class for my new job of a woman who lives barely five miles from me in the rural area denoted by a dot on the map called Sapello – a woman I’d met once briefly before, but did not know until we were paired, during the training, for motivational interviewing exercises. Turns out we have a number of common interests, and a shared love of living “on the frontier” as our employer labels the area we serve.

Other small world stories are of more surprising meetings (Coincidences? Fated encounters?)

Two of mine have their roots in my stay in Vietnam, from 1956-1958. I was in my early teens, my father assigned as the economic officer at the U.S. embassy in Saigon.  Ingrid, a few years younger than I, was one of my friends. Both of us were socially awkward, neither of us fully aware to what extent the stresses within our families contributed to that lack of ease. We – in modern parlance – hung out together. After Saigon, Ingrid was sent to a boarding school in Colorado and I moved with my parents moved to Paris. She visited once, briefly, during those three years I lived in France. Then we lost touch.

Blaufarb Family with My Mother and Me Behind Them

Blaufarb Family with My Mother and Me Behind Them

Skip to four years later, my junior year in college, and a trip to New York City.

With my then boyfriend Ray, I was on a date that included a meal at the Russian Tea Room. We walked into the dining area, and saw before us a large family group seated at a round table. Ray started forward to greet one couple and their daughter Pamela, a former girlfriend from his high school days. I started forward to the same table to greet Ingrid’s parents. Ray and I looked at each other. “You know these people?” he quizzed me.

“Yes,” I replied. “Those are the Blaufarbs, parents of my friend Ingrid.”

“Pamela’s aunt and uncle. I’ve been told about them.”

I didn’t share with Ray how immediately I felt transported back to the tropic heat and teenage anxieties of Saigon, where I’d heard too much detail about Ingrid’s socially popular cousin Pamela!

*******

My second Vietnam-based story begins at its end, tying Saigon to Sapello. One of the people working in the office of my vet is a tall, energetic woman a few years older than I, named Susan. She is the sister-in-law of Louie, who trained my younger mare, and with whom I became friends when I first moved to Sapello in 1990. At some point in my on-going  conversations with Louie, it came out that his sister had “run off with a Frenchman” when she was in her late teens, and that the siblings had only reconnected many years later, when they both settled back near their mother. in the Sapello area.

Louie told me that Susan had gone to work for “our” vet when he set up practice about three miles from my home. On my next trip in with an animal in need of care, I met Susan. Remembering what Louie had told me, I mentioned that Susan and I had a connection of both knowing French. The next few sentences revealed that we both learned our French, not in Paris, but in Saigon. We had both spent leisure time at the Cercle Sportif, the “club” where we swam, played tennis, and in my case took classes, and performed the French Can Can at one of their “spectacles” – shows put on for the enjoyment of the members.

Contemplating a Plunge

Contemplating a Plunge

Susan’s time in Saigon preceded mine – she left in the spring before the October that brought me to Vietnam, just in time for my 13th birthday. Susan’s Frenchman, whom she married at seventeen but divorced just a few years later, was the older brother of Marie Claire, with whom I became friends in the dance class, and with whom I performed that Can Can.

******

Ingrid now divides her time between New York and Maine; her son went briefly to Swarthmore, where Ray and I attended college. Looking through a Swarthmore Alumni Bulletin sent to her son, Ingrid found an essay I’d written. Through the college, she obtained the information to once again contact me, some forty years after our last encounter in Paris. I’ve since traveled to the East Coast. We met for an afternoon. Ray recently traveled west, and we also met after a parallel forty year gap, as I recounted in a post this past summer.

Meanwhile, Susan is retiring from the vet’s office for a combination of reasons, including the fact that the vet is introducing a complex new computer system to the practice. Susan “does not get along well with computers” and decided the stress of trying to do so would be an unacceptable strain on her health. I’m feeling vivid kinship with her now, as I try to understand the complexities of the several computer systems I must master in my new job. I don’t share Susan’s aversion to computers, indeed feel fairly comfortable with them – or thought I did – until I encountered the multiple encrypted layers of security that must be understood to navigate around a health provider’s regulation-compliant system. Thank heavens, Presbyterian’s tech support is a seven-days-per-week operation!!!

I expect I’ll still see Susan occasionally, as we live quite near one another and have overlapping interests. I’m in intermittent contact with Ingrid, and with Ray, by email. If the occasion arises for me to introduce them to Susan, will that somehow close a loop that stretches over fifty-five years and around half the world? Linkages through the Internet, which enable me to “chat” simultaneously with a friend in Singapore and one in Norway, have already made the world much smaller, but enjoyable as they are, those conversations don’t have the same feeling of “oh my, how amazing” that accompanied my encounter with the Blaufarbs in New York, or with Susan at the vet.

Is it just me, or is it something to do with the life experiences of my age group, that makes the face-to-face connection of a small world encounter more precious than even the most globe-encompassing Internet link?

Chaplin and Me

November 9, 2013

As I headed toward the employee entrance to Presbyterian Tuesday morning, I flashed on an old movie – a Charlie Chaplin, I’m pretty sure but I don’t recall the title – of flocks of workers pouring into a plant, each showing an ID card and punching in before taking their places on an assembly line. In Albuquerque on Tuesday, we were a smaller clutch of workers, each wearing an ID badge which provides access via a scanned bar code, through multiple levels of security-locked doors, to our classroom, desks, and computers. How did I get to my seventh decade without ever working in such a large, regulated establishment? Even the government programs where I’ve been employed feel relatively small by comparison.

In orientation, we were told that Presbyterian hires about 2000 people per year, employs more than 8000, and receives over 100,000 applications for the annual openings created by turnover or – in the present case – by the expansion of its Medicaid program services. We were congratulated on being “special” because we were part of the select group chosen to be hired. I listened to the numbers in some awe, not in self-congratulation but rather in disbelief. What have I gotten myself into?

These past two days my subgroup (half the class of new Care Coordinators) received training on the still-being-completed-and-tested computer system which will be the primary support of our jobs. We will receive our assignments, create our case files, document our time and our activities, meet State and Federal mandates all within this one system. Given that there are quite a few bugs in the program, and pieces that have not yet been implemented, the training was likened to teaching us “to run the systems that fly the plane that the State still hasn’t finished building.” Take off is set for January 1st. Ready or not, off we go.

What fun!

Assigned to work within the Presbyterian computer system from my hotel room, I spent two hours in frustration at my inability to get through multiple layers of access in order to connect my highly secured work laptop to the hotel’s Internet. A classmate finally figured out the path, based on issues she’d had previously with her connectivity from home. I remember, back in the dark ages when they were new to the workplace, how we were assured that computers would make things easier.

Hah!

My homework included an opportunity to provide feedback on fixes the system needs to make it into a more effective tool of care management. The programmers have had barely seven months to design a system that normally is budgeted for a year or more of development and testing. I do appreciate being given a voice – I just wish there were fewer issues for me to speak up about! And that the changes and improvements could come sooner than the projected six months out from “going live”, which happens in less than two months.

Is any of this beginning to sound like Healthcare.gov?

Remember, Niki, you were hired for your “adaptability, independence, ability to think on your feet” and your implied tolerance for a very unstable and changing work environment. I do have those skills in person, and person to person. I’m not so sure I have them when it’s a matter of interacting with “technology”. I still complete the cards my students earn in their CPR certification classes on a (gasp) typewriter because that is easier for me than trying to create a computer template that will instruct my printer to produce them with all the right info in the correct small spaces.

Call me a Luddite – I’ll wear that badge proudly!

Until now, even the “field” workers for Presbyterian have been based in offices in towns and cities. They speak of those of us who will be working from our homes scattered in rural areas as working on the “frontier” – but still plan for us to use systems that rely on urban technology. I’ve only been able to access DSL at my home within the past year. If I lived a mile farther up the road I would not have it at all, would be dependent on satellite (or dial-up) and couldn’t get my work computer even to boot up due to timing out from the connection. As it is, the DSL flickers enough to pause my work on my fast and lightly loaded personal laptop – it repeatedly froze me out on the work computer which is slow and cumbersome, weighted down with multiple very complicated programs. Yet the concept is that I will take the laptop with me to client homes, to complete interviews and assessments.

I don’t think so.

Not when most of those homes don’t have connectivity at all – isn’t that what’s meant by the frontier? Out where people are living simply, often in the same way as their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc.?

We’re told we’ll be given paper copies of all the documents we have to fill in – and that we can then scan and send them to an assistant in the central office who will code them into the computer. That procedure will allow me to get my work done within the established time frames. It is offered as a support strategy – so why do I feel as though it means I will be dumping chunks of my work off onto someone else?

Because in my 20 plus years as regional manager for a home health agency serving that same rural frontier, I had no administrative support? If I needed copies, I made the copies. I typed my own letters, entered all my own work into the computer systems, and was the support for my staff when they got behind, or needed help tracking certification due dates, etc. We were a branch office of 5 with a case load around 300 clients and a field staff of close to 350, for whom I was the top-of-the-chain-of-authority supervisor.

(Now you know why, as I went job-hunting this past year, I determined I wanted a position in which I would only be responsible for my own work product!)

Had all those employees come into the office every day, we would have looked like my experience of this past Tuesday, or the Chaplin film, minus the time clock and swipe cards.  But my field staff were dispersed across a quarter of the large state of New Mexico. I went to them (as I will be doing to member homes in my current position) rather than bringing them to me. In between visits, I communicated with them by phone – either directly, or via their supervisors.

My new supervisor expects me to communicate primarily be email – with phone calls when email isn’t available. The company does recognize that even cell service is spotty “on the frontier” so they are acquiring a few satellite phones to be checked out to staff when they may be needed. I suspect, if I end up covering the same area now as I did for the home health agency, I will have one of those phones permanently in my car. Along with my emergency survival kit, including an extra book (paper, not Nook) to keep me entertained if I’m stranded.

Along the Open Road

Along the Open Road

My new job will definitely be an adventure! I’m curious to see how the blending of futuristic programming and frontier life plays out. I look forward to working in an environment that stresses being part of a team, offering clerical and administrative support I’ve not been used to receiving. I’ll do my best to not be a burden on my support staff, which means I’m committing to becoming as proficient with the computer systems as my connectivity will allow. I’ll need encouragement to resist being tempted by my paper “backup” procedures.

Will you come along on this adventure with me?     

One of a Kind

November 2, 2013

It’s a gorgeous, sunny, crisp yet warm autumn afternoon. I’m driving down from my home at 7500 feet towards Albuquerque. Down as in south, down as in descending to the city’s 5000 foot altitude. I pass from full-color glory of cottonwoods in deep gold, dotted here and there along arroyos which occasionally run but are now dry, to clusters of trees beside small streams which show a mixed blend of yellow tones. Here and there on hillsides I see an occasional, rare in the desert, sprinkling of red leaves where scrub oak is doing its part to show off. Wishing I had time to stop and take pictures at each of the scattered sites, I slow down and drink in the brilliant color enhanced as it is by a bright sun and a postcard-perfect clear blue sky.

An Arc of Gold

An Arc of Gold

Much of the land is once again brown, grasses dried and earth showing little sign of the week of heavy rain that caused flooding in New Mexico as well as Colorado. Oh, you didn’t know that we had floods? Not surprising. When it comes to national reporting, New Mexico doesn’t exist. Our flooding was not mentioned; our drought is equally overlooked, although we have officially been the driest state in the nation. Only when Los Alamos lay in the path of wildfire, and last year when the biggest wildfire raging in the country ate tens of thousands of acres southwest of Santa Fe, did New Mexico make the news. “Listen my children, and you will hear…” stories like those handed out to tourists in a booklet entitled “One of Our Fifty is Missing”  –  but that is the subject of another posting.

On the Prairie

On the Prairie

The rain is gone. One week in August, then a torrential week in September that dumped more than the land could absorb – now we’re once again living with drought, seeing long stretches of dun and tan prairie grasses, and encountering bears on the edges of our communities, some even making their way into the center of large cities in search of food. Acres of monochrome are suddenly interrupted by a line of golden cottonwoods. Looking out across the prairie, those trees beckon with the promise of a water course. Many of these small rivulets are dry, their banks eroded by the flash floods which accompanied that week of September rain, sometimes to the point that tree roots are exposed. Tree roots reaching down deeply, to what little is left of moisture; tree roots anchored in brown to give life to riotous gold.

A Survivor

A Survivor

I pass yet another cluster of trees about ten miles south of Santa Fe, and see cars pulled off the side of the road. Looking more closely, I spy a group of artists, easels lined up, some standing, others on camp stools, each of them trying to capture autumn glory. I wish I could stop and join them! Instead I continue down the highway, across dry flat lands, then down one last hill. Spread out before me is the bosque of the Rio Grande, a wide and many-miles-long swath of cottonwoods, in every possible shade of yellow. It is almost too much to take in – acres of dancing golden tones sating the eye to the point that I must look away, watch the highway and the traffic, overfull.

As I enter Albuquerque, I find myself searching out the occasional red of an intentionally-planted maple (they are not native here) and wonder if the householder responsible for the tree is, like me, originally from the East Coast. I delight in the rare splashes of red in equal measure as I responded to the occasional golden cottonwoods earlier in my trip.

Rosy red

Rosy red

I remember autumn in New England, red upon orange upon grape upon wine, each color seeming to stand out and be enhanced by its subtle differences from its neighbors. I never tired of those shades of red in the way that today I ceased to be drawn to the yellows in the bosque.

Neighbors

Neighbors

I perceive that, because there were so many different types of trees producing multi-hued woodlands, autumn in the East, with its continuous experience of changing colors, did not become “too much” in the way that miles of yellow upon yellow have exhausted my ability to be inspired. I ask myself how much variety is enough to keep me from becoming sated? Is it actually variety that is important, or uniqueness? A clump of cottonwoods in a landscape of tan grasses is unique. A brilliant red maple stands out against an orange-toned oak whereas, in an acre of similarly colored trees, each cottonwood loses its distinction.

Do we not all strive to find our own unique color, to stand out from those around us?

Some of us are more strident, others quite subtle, but all of us seem internally driven to find a way to express individuality. Undoubtedly one of you readers will have objected that the acres of yellow in the bosque, the totality of which I found to be ‘too much’, would have delighted you with its abundance. The open, empty plains that I find soothing were frightening to my mother. On her one visit to New Mexico she felt unpleasantly vulnerable, as though naked and exposed. I, by contrast, feel invaded, almost assaulted, by the intensity of human activity in urban areas.

Standing Out

Standing Out

Going out for a walk after orientation class has ended, I find a patch of grass littered with slim, deep red leaves. I don’t know what sort of tree they have dropped from – I’m not an educated botanist. I do know that I’ll keep the handful I collected on my desk in the training room, until they turn brown and brittle. And to have them longer, I’ll photograph them to upload to my screen saver, along with pictures of cottonwood and of maple branches lit by late afternoon sun.

Red Delight

Red Delight

I may feel sated in the bosque; I will delight in retaining reminders of this colorful day, replete with images that speak to my soul while teaching lessons about the value of individual differences.

Words of Communication

October 26, 2013

Driving down I-25 toward I-40 in Albuquerque, I passed through more than one weaving section – those complicated stretches of road where it seems everyone is trying to get into a different lane, coming up from an on-ramp or trying to reach the off-ramp or to position themselves for the upcoming interchange where two major roads meet or diverge. I know the term weaving section courtesy of a transportation planner with whom I had a relationship a very long time ago. He also taught me to drive competently and safely. Thank you, Ray.

Once through the series of weaving sections, I traveled from southbound I-25 to eastbound 1-40 via a flyover – or that’s what my British friends would call it (I know the term courtesy of all the British authors I’ve read over the years). A flyover is the part of the interchange that takes you up and over other lanes of traffic, what we in America call an overpass. As I passed over (flew through at high speed) the interchange, I remembered a number of other lessons in American versus British English, these taught me by my Uncle Eric and Aunt Hilda in Sheffield when I was still a teenager. In (I hope) mock horror Hilda scolded my use of wash cloth (only for cleaning dishes) when what I wanted was to clean my skin (using a face flannel). She was also upset that I called her garden (grassy with flowers) a yard (bare dirt or pavement). And she made it clear that the soil in her garden was earth, not dirt!

My venture into reflection on terminological differences arose following my attendance at an emergency planning conference – more properly the New Mexico Local Emergency Planning Committee Annual Conference – at which a number of intelligent, engaged, caring and thoughtful people tried to convey their knowledge and expertise to a largely receptive audience. My problem with the conference was not in participation, nor content, but in the strange transmogrification which occurred in the speakers – from competent communicators to committed users of stilted government-speak. Several of the presenters tried to include humor in their talks; all had the ubiquitous power point at hand for support; some also added pictures and graphics to illustrate key points. But the bottom – common – line amongst almost all of them was their use of that strange obfuscation which passes for communication within bureaucracies.

Ah, you’ve noticed my inclusion in these paragraphs of big words. It’s fun, sort of, to fall victim to that of which I am complaining. Here, I’m changing my usual form of communication for fun, and with intent. The presenters did not alter their delivery for fun. They seemed, rather, to feel the need to assume a formal persona because they were presenting a talk. As though who they are/how they speak normally was not good enough or important enough to give a conference presentation. One exception was the only attorney to make a presentation – he is so at home in his public delivery that there was no discernible change in him (except voice projection) when he stopped chatting over lunch and stood to give the luncheon address.

I’ve coached students learning to write essays for school, and encountered a similar perceived need to drastically alter their manner of communicating. One teen with an engaging ability to tell stories, when asked to turn the story he’d just told into an assignment for English class, became the written equivalent of tongue-tied (pen-tied, computer-tied?).

“How do I begin?”
“Just start telling your story.”
“I don’t get it. How do I begin?”
“Pretend you’re talking to me and just put the words on paper instead of speaking them.”
“But how do I start? Where do I start? How far back should I go, to get the reader to understand what the story is all about?”
“How far back did you go when you told me the story just now?”
“I didn’t have to go back because you know me.”
“So pretend the reader knows you and start the way you started with me.”
“But the reader doesn’t know me and might misunderstand.”
“Write it like you’re writing a letter to me, then. You know I won’t misunderstand.”
“So do I start with “Dear Ms. Sebastian”?”
“If that lets you get into your story, go for it.”

It would seem that wanting to communicate, for many people, contains within itself the root of lost ability to do so! It is a painful truth for stutterers, that the more urgently they desire to speak, the more inhibited that speech is likely to become. Some stutterers overcome the problem by taking singing lessons. Next, they think of singing their daily speech, and the words come out fluently. I aimed for a similar transfer of skills with my encouragement of my writing student to tell me the story on paper just as he’d told it aloud. He did write me a letter, then transferred the body of the story to essay format, and got a good grade on the paper.

I’m convinced that effective communication – whether in a formal presentation or a chat over tea in a garden – is not about the words one uses, not about the style, but about having a comfortable sense of oneself, and an intent to communicate. The presenters at the conference became ensnared by their efforts to appear as some formalized image of themselves, perhaps labeled “the professional”. The student, a natural story teller, was blocked by replacing his intent to communicate with an intent to “be a writer”. Many people, convinced that they won’t be understood, don’t try to express themselves at all, and become the fulfillment of their perception, going sadly misunderstood through life.

The simplest injunction to give to someone undertaking a new communication task is “be yourself” – yet it is also, often, the hardest one to manifest. How many of us really have “a comfortable sense of ourselves” that we are willing to expose through our written or spoken words? To become a good communicator then, there are in fact four necessary steps:
1) Know yourself
2) Be yourself
3) Trust yourself
4) Express yourself

Just four steps – but ones it often takes a lifetime to learn.

Sounds of Silence

October 1, 2013

First, I should explain that a different type of silence was imposed on me over the weekend, preventing me from putting up this post when I intended to do so, on Sunday afternoon. The internet link at the motel where I was staying was somehow incompatible with my computer, and the IT people weren’t able to reset it properly. I am back home, and once again connected – able to ‘speak’.

Thank you for patience, for reading, for following, for being there.

Niki
**************


Noise pollution is one of the issues not being adequately discussed in relation to my county’s examination of a proposed fracking ordinance. I brought the topic into the discussion, and I have to keep raising it as others focus insistently on water quality and scarcity, and contamination of the air and soil. By comparison I suppose noise can be considered a less significant negative – but not to me.

I live in the countryside – what most people would consider a truly rural area. My small 900 square foot house is set back from the road, on four acres, abutting a several-hundred-acre ranch. I have three neighbors – houses close to the road with entrance driveways off it, in a cluster with my own entryway. Across the road are two more homes. Most of the time, those neighbors are quiet – so much so that I wonder if they are at home. No loud parties, nor growling outdoor machinery.

I do hear traffic on the highway. My house is situated on a hill toward which the road heads before it veers off, resulting in the longish driveway that snakes from the road up over a hill to my front door. Sitting in my living room, looking out its floor to ceiling windows, I can see a section of the road, and all the vehicles that travel up and down it. I cannot see – but can hear clearly – the heavy trucks and the rattle of gravel excavation that is going on a further 2 miles away, on a section of land that “ought” not to be considered to be in my neighborhood. Something about the lay of the valley funnels that noise straight up to my house.

The gravel operation is new this summer. I don’t know yet if I’ll notice it when my windows are closed, but I am very aware now, with windows wide open, of the days it is running and those, like today, when it is not. Perhaps I’m more sensitive than other people to the ambient noise within which I live?

I do not like to have music playing “in the background” of my days. I work better, think better, live better in silence. I enjoy music, go to concerts, play records (there’s an oldie for you) or CDs with intention to listen to them – emphasis on the intention to listen. If my intention is to work, I prefer to do so in silence.

Undoubtedly, that preference has something to do with my enjoyment of Quaker Meeting, and Buddhist zazen sessions, as well as my own daily spiritual contemplative practice. Undoubtedly it also has something to do with my appreciation of the skill of the young musicians from Curtis Institute who performed Britten’s Quartet #3 for Strings at a recent Music From Angel Fire concert near my home. Two of the piece’s five movements, including the last one, end with a prolonged silence defined by the musicians holding their bows immobile above the strings of their instruments until, as one, they relaxed in their seats, signaling the end of the silence that was part of the movement, and the beginning of the silence into which the audience could inject its noises of appreciation.

Once before, many years ago in Boston, I attended a concert which featured a piano performance that included long silences as part of the piece, and then too I was able to ‘hear’ the difference in quality between the silence that was integral to the music, and the silence of the piece’s end. That time, as I recall, I had no visual cue. I was sitting too far back, in the cheap seats, to see the pianist’s hands. I could only rely on my ears, and the pianist’s flawless sense of timing, to distinguish when musical silence transitioned to an appreciative silence from the audience, which in turn transitioned into loud applause.

A few of my acquaintances seem to understand what I mean when I express my awareness of the difference between the silence of Quaker Meeting, and that in a Zendo. Even the famously silent Meetings (the oldest, historical ones in Philadelphia) which I have attended, have a busy-ness to them, a sense of minds occupied with focused reflection, that is distinctly different from the no-thought silence of a practiced group of Buddhists in meditation. And different again from the life in silence of the Benedictines (and their guests) living at Christ in the Desert Monastery. Different yet again from the experience of many hundreds of chelas (students), attending to the silent communication from our Beloved Teacher at a MasterPath gathering. Dare I say that there are many different sounds of silence?

(Yes I know the Simon and Garfunkle song The Sound of Silence. It doesn’t fit into my narrative because the song is about the negative aspect of silence – silence as a barrier to communication and a symptom of loneliness.)

We seem, in the modern urgency of tuned-in lives, to have forgotten the old adage that silence is golden. We settle for the silver, the copper, even the dross of noisy, busy “I’m somebody, doing something important” daily life and think we are fulfilling ourselves. Just yesterday, I had a Facebook ‘chat’ with a young friend who is torn between his desire to study the classical languages necessary to read ancient Buddhist texts in their original, and the supposedly practical necessity of getting a degree in a subject that can lead to a job. How practical is it, to go against one’s nature, to ignore the still, small, inner voice directing one toward a path of spiritual fulfillment, in favor of a loud, outer, boisterous demand to focus on earning a living?

Inside golden silence, there is much to hear and learn. Whole worlds of perception, of wisdom, exist within our inner silent spaces. Would that we all, individually and collectively, were more insistent on spending time in that beautiful silence within! Would that we all, individually and collectively, could share the golden wealth to be acquired from listening to the songs of the Divine played so beautifully within us. Listen…. and you will hear…


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