Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lost in the Poconos

Early October can be cold in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, especially after the sun goes down. It is also the time when some of the rare moths appear. Here then, is the tale of being lost in the Poconos one late October night.

We were driving along the winding mountain roads searching for obscure pull-offs where we could park the car and walk into the woods unnoticed. Our objective was to look for good spots to put out blacklight traps, which are used to attract moths. We had explored about five potential trap sites when the sun began to set. I looked up into the sky and saw the first stars of the night. The constellation Cassiopeia was beginning to appear. Just beautiful.

"Let's check this one out," said fellow biologist Charles. "OK," I said, and we hopped out of the car and made our way into the woods, boots crunching on the dry leaves. After traveling about 50 yards or so, we decided to head back to the car. We turned around and walked back the way we came. We walked and we walked. There was no car, no pull-off.

"Where are we?" I asked.  "The car should be right here!".  "I don't know," he responded. "Let's keep looking."

The battery on my headlamp, the only light we had, was beginning to die as the fading light bounced off the trees. I was starting to shiver, as I had not worn a coat. Every exhale produced a cloud of vapor. We walked for half an hour and still no sign of the car. Cassiopeia continued to shine above us.

"We should build a fire," Charles said. "I don't think so Charles, I think we should build a survival shelter so that we can keep warm until morning." Back and forth we went as we peered into the darkness, looking for a glimmer of hope in the form of light shining on a bumper.

"OK, hold on," I said. I pulled out the topographical map. "Listen and look Charles. Do you hear the sound of this highway?", I asked, pointing to the major roadway indicated on the map. "It is coming from over there," I said. "I have been watching the stars all night, and if I can find a clearing so that I can see Cassiopeia clearly, I think I can figure out where we are using this map. We have been gone for a couple of hours and I think she should have shifted about this far in the sky during that time. She came up in the east." I held my hand up to the sky, making two inches between my thumb and index finger.

We searched the heavily forested area until finally coming into a small clearing. There, through the branches of an oak tree, shined Cassiopeia. Orienting myself to this beautiful constellation and to the sound of the highway, I calculated a route that would take us back to the road we came in on. We might not find the car, but at least we would have a road.

Charles thought I was crazy. I knew better.

Our boots shuffled through the leaves as we walked in the direction that Cassiopeia sent us. Within 15 minutes, the dim light of my headlamp reflected off the bumper of a car. Our car.

Ever since I was a young girl I have known to pay attention to my surroundings. I look at the trees, the plants, the slope of the hill, what stars are out and where they are in the sky. How high was the sun, how high is the sun now? Does it smell like rain? What kind of soil am I walking on? Dry sand, or dark organics, indicating a former wetland? What birds are singing? I don't use GPS when in the woods or in the car. I want to be connected in my body and Spirit to the world around me. I don't want to be lost when that rechargeable battery dies.

But most importantly, I don't want to miss one bit of the glory of Nature that surrounds me. Not one bit.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The War of the Dragonflies

In the Western Adirondack Mountains in New York, you will find one of the most beautiful paddling trips east of the Great Lakes. The Bog River Flow (Lows Lake) is 14.5 miles of scenic, unspoiled beauty with bogs, eagles, and the largest concentration of loons in the state of New York. The campsites are so far apart that you can be there for days and never see another soul.

On one trip up the River, I had a very unique experience that even baffled Clark Shiffer, a well-respected Odonate expert (dragonflies and damselflies) who was a colleague of mine back when I worked for The Nature Conservancy. My friend Brenda and I were camping at our favorite site amongst the hemlocks and Canada mayflowers, taking day trips paddling around the large lake, exploring beaver dams and bouncing on the floating bog mats.

I spent several days sitting on the beach, watching the water. I noticed that about 3:00 in the afternoon, the dragonflies changed guard. The flying fairies most prevalent in the early afternoon hung out in the shrubs along the shoreline. But precisely at 3:00, they disappeared, and a larger dragonfly species took their place, flying out over the still water. A third type of dragonfly overlapped both shifts, appearing about 2:00 pm and departing the scene around 5 pm.

To aid in this discussion, I must give names to these latter two species to avoid confusion in you, the reader. So the larger dragonfly I shall refer from here on out as the egg chain dragonfly, and the other the lily pad dragonfly. I do not know their proper names, regrettably.

On one particular afternoon I watched the lily pad dragonfly laying her eggs. She would land on a pad, tip her abdomen into the water and up under the lily pad, and deposit her eggs. She would lay several times under one pad, then fly to another and repeat the process again.  Every once in awhile, a bass would jump up and snatch a lily pad dragonfly, then disappear down into the tea-colored water happy and fat.

The egg chain dragonfly had a completely different strategy for laying her eggs. She would make arched flights downward and release a gel-covered chain of eggs into the water. If you have ever seen a hummingbird doing its U-shaped dive flight, that is what the egg chain dragonfly looks like as she delivers the next generation of dragonflies to the world.

Here is the fantastic part. So I am watching the lily pad dragonfly doing her things, when all of a sudden the egg chain female swoops down and lays a gooey sticky strand of eggs precisely over the body and wings of the lily pad female. Up she flew and began her dive like Snoopy fighting the Red Baron, laying another strand on top of the now helpless lily pad female. Three strands of eggs later, the lily pad dragonfly was done, completely engulfed in gel. The bass didn't miss a beat, and jumped up for dessert. Survival of the fittest.

But it didn't end there. This female continued to seek out lily pad dragonflies and dive bomb them with egg chains, essentially sticking them to the top of the lily pad and preventing any further egg laying by the helpless females. I had never seen anything like this before or since.  My friend Clark had also never witnessed anything so bizarre in his 40 plus years of watching these beautiful insects. I felt blessed to see such wonder in nature.

It is amazing to think about all of the encounters that go on in our natural world everyday, whether we are there to witness them or not. I wonder just how accurate our descriptions are of the lives of our animal neighbors, after all we only see what they want us to see.

I wonder what they are doing when we aren't looking.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Huey Helicopters

I took my first ride in a helicopter in 1985, when I volunteered with the Alaska Mountain rescue group to help search for a missing backpacker in Denali National Park. The front of the helicopter was a big bubble, giving it the appearance of a giant dragonfly. I sat in the front seat, strapped in with four point restraints and a radio headset placed on my head. We flew through the air at top speed, across the tundra and up over mountains, my stomach dropping right along with the jagged rock below. 

My second ride was in a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter back in 1992. I flew with Air National Guard pilots, looking for bald eagle nests and searching for habitat for a rare butterfly.

Photo by Hubert Van Es.

Every generation has their war. Mine was Vietnam. I grew up with the images of flag draped coffins exiting cargo planes, napalm fire storms washing across the jungle, the protests and arrests. The heartbreak and confusion, the sorrow and the loss. I have known Vietnam veterans, some who have talked about it and some who just want to forget.  I have known a Vietnamese friend whose family got out of Saigon on the very last airlift, her Uncle forging papers to get them to freedom. She was just a baby at the time. When we were friends a couple of decades ago, she had no interest in the Vietnam War, not a shred of curiousity. Perhaps now she does. Our personal stories become more important the older we get.

When I first stepped onto the Huey, I immediately wondered if it had been in the war, clear across the ocean in a land I have never seen. I imagined it carrying troops or wounded soldiers in and out of the jungle. I searched the walls for holes, the floor for blood.

I flew in Hueys probably four or five times. Each pilot was different. One decided to show me how a helicopter would patrol the mountains in time of war. We crept along the ridge, just out of sight, and would pop up occasionally to see what was going on over the ridge. We would zigzag and dart, up and down and around the valley and mountains. I always got sick. “Land, land,” I would try to say into the little microphone, fearing I would lose it right then and there. We would find a clearing and I would take a walk to relieve the churning in my gut.  “It is all in your head, you know“, Donald Trump’s pilot told me. He was a reservist in the Air National Guard. “Your body isn’t really sick, your mind makes you think you are.”  “Right,” I said, between barfs.

“They are going to retire the Hueys,” one pilot told me, sadly. I felt sad, too. I don’t know why. Those army green choppers hold a place in my heart, a chord that attaches me to a little white house in Westerville, Ohio when my parents were still together. They remind me of a time when our nation was confused and at war with itself. I was just a child, but I knew. Everyone knew.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tales from Edwardsburg - The Autograph Book

Grandma Belle and Grandpa Roy lived next door in an old white house with a big mulberry tree next to it. Grandma Belle always made me a mulberry pie if I would pick the berries for her. Oh that was delicious. Grandpa Roy was the official umpire of our kickball games over at the Grover's. They were much loved in our neighborhood.

Behind their old white house was a big red barn with vines and moss attaching themselves to its sturdy wood, as if holding on for dear life. To go into that old barn was to step back in time. There were stacks of old newspapers telling of the bombing of Hiroshima and the assassination of JFK. An old black top hat rested on a stack of newsprint and found itself on the head of every kid who sneaked in for a visit. There were boxes of clothes and old household items. And amongst the heaps and mounds, a velvet covered autograph book with real autographs inside. This treasure I kept.

Each night I would carefully open the old book and touch the pages, each with the fancy signature of a person unknown to me. The writing style was of the old days when people took pride in their penmanship, and it was clear they were written with quill or cartridge pens. I wondered about each person, who they were, where they lived. Were they famous or just a friend? Questions that would never have answers.

I have always been an autograph hound, not a serious one, but I have acquired my share of famous signatures. The first autograph I got was from Bart Starr, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s. I wrote him a letter and asked for a picture and sure enough one came in the mail, signed by the famous quarterback himself. Next, I wrote to the Monkees and soon an autographed picture was in the mailbox with all four signatures from the famous primates.

On a roll, I sent a Christmas card to President and Lady Bird Johnson. They sent one back.

In the early 1980s, I went to the Wizard of Oz Convention and found myself staring at three, not one, but three living, breathing Munchkins! It took me an hour to collect myself in order to go speak to them. They were REAL! I mean, one of them was the Coroner for God's sake, the one who examined the Wicked Witch of the West and found she was really most sincerely dead! I had watched the Munchkins every year since the day I was born and, well, it was like seeing the real Santa Claus. I left the Wizard of Oz Convention that day with three Munchkin autographs.

My next autograph extravaganza occurred on a leather guitar strap that I carried with me to gigs where I shared the stage with other performers. I would ask my fellow musicians to sign that strap and I am pleased to say it is full of signatures from most of my favorite folk musicians. What great memories that strap holds.

I did send away for...OK paid for an autograph from Xena Warrior Princess (Lucy Lawless). I couldn't help myself.  I was going through my Xena phase.

I bought this book once that told which movie stars would respond to autograph requests. So when my Grandma was still suffering the blues from losing my Grandpa, I decided to cheer her up by writing to her favorite TV character (next to Xena and Zoro), Walker Texas Ranger, played by Chuck Norris. He was one of the actors the book said would write back. I told him how Grandma was one of his biggest fans, and that she was still sad about losing Grandpa. I asked if he might send her an autographed picture to cheer her up.

About six months later, Grandma got her picture. A personalized autograph to Phyliss Barton from Chuck Norris, aka Walker Texas Ranger. I was so excited! He really did respond. I was sure she would feel better.

She chuckled a suspicious chuckle, a kind of "huh huh" thing,  and proclaimed, "That's not real, I am sure his secretary signed it."

When Grandma died, I stuck Chuck's picture in her casket along with her and Grandpa's well-worn deck of cards and scorecard (he owed her), and some Yahtzee dice. I was sure that the autograph verifier in heaven would confirm to Grandma that this was indeed a real autograph.

My last autograph came from President Barack Obama, a hand-written postcard addressed to me and delivered Priority Mail. In it, he told me that, although sometimes slowly, American marches toward equality and freedom. He responded to an email I had sent months earlier, thanking him for supporting civil rights for gays and lesbians. I can only hope my letter had a tiny bit of influence in his support of same-sex marriage.

But these autographs aren't the ones that mean the most to me. I treasure the autographs nestled in the signed cards or letters from those I love. These are the priceless pages I hold dear, written without prompting or payment. Professions of love.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ivan on the Wall

This is a semi-video blog, a slide show set to music in honor of Memorial Day. The song is "Ivan on the Wall", which I wrote and recorded in 1992, three years before anyone knew what happened to MIA pilot Ivan D. Appleby. The story is in the video. Remembering all those who have gone through war, be it public or personal, this Memorial Day weekend.

Harry Potter Where Are You?

I have felt something missing for the past several months, and I wasn't able to pinpoint it until this morning. It is that feeling of anticipation of the next Harry Potter movie. Every year for the past 11 years there has been magical buzz about the next film, beginning in 2001 with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and ending with last year's final movie, The Deathly Hallow Part 2.  I loved the books and I loved the movies. And now they are gone. I have no cinematic adventure to look forward to.

I was hooked on the Wizard of Oz, too. Remember the days before VCR, DVR, and Tevo? They showed the Wizard of Oz only once a year, and how excited I would get when the opening studio credit would appear and that beautiful lion roared. When I was really little, I wondered if they ever let the lion out of the TV so it could eat. I get goosebumps just thinking about it!

Magical movies have always drawn me in. Perhaps it is a deep longing to escape this world, who knows. I loved Peter Pan and the thought of flying. I used to fly in my dreams, never more than 3 or 4 feet off the ground, but I was flying nonetheless.  Sometimes on lazy summer days I will look up into the big blue sky and watch the clouds. I know that someday a cloud ship will appear to take me away to Never Land. Peter told me once in a dream.

I want to travel to Platform 9¾ at King's Cross station in London and hop on the train to Hogwart's and have a big adventure with Harry and the gang. To ride a broom and play Quidditch...hey wait a minute. I could! There is now an International Quidditch Association! And OMG Michigan State University has a team, the Spartan Spitfires! Now I am excited. Do you think they would let a 54 year old Muggle play? Shoot, I just read they had the first annual Michigan Quidditch Cup on March 12. Do you think they use a real Golden Snitch?

I watched a video of the MSU vs. Loyala Midwest Quiddich Cup tournament, I must say the players do look a bit funny running around the field with a broom between their legs. And without the enormous stadium of screaming fans it just doesn't have it. Perhaps if they played in Spartan Stadium to much fanfare it might be a little more realistic. But then they would have to fill the place. A Spartan Stadium Harry Potter convention? OK maybe I'll just watch the Sorcerer's Stone and imagine myself flying.

Perhaps the best thing to do is have a Harry Potter movie weekend and watch them all from the first to the last. They are so damn long I will have to make it a three day weekend and stay up late. I will immerse myself in the books and travel to a wonderous place full of extraordinary creatures, magical spells, pumpkin juice and butter beer. So if you don't hear from me for awhile, send an Owl.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Assuming the Worst

Last night I had an incredible experience capturing another swarm from my beehive. This time, the gals, led by two queens, decided to make it challenging and landed nearly 35 feet in the air in a maple tree in front of my house. Too high for my gear, I called a local beekeeper, and he and is wife came over at near dark to see what they could do. He brought with him a ten foot pole attached to a bucket, and a tall orchard ladder. But it wasn't enough. Still too high.

So, given that I come from a long line of engineers, I found a suitable old shovel handle, shaved it down to the proper diameter, and we inserted it into the end of his 10 foot PVC pole. Perfect. Up the ladder he went, and with coordinated effort, we got the swarm down. Well, half of it. Queen 2 and her followers are still up there, out of reach. We will try for them tonight.

During our conversation, the subject of social programs came up. His opinion was that they should all be cut, then gave two or three examples of people he knew who were on disability or unemployment and, he felt, taking advantage of the system. Why, one of these people had a big screen TV! Can you imagine? And more than one car!

I let him talk for awhile, then told him that I had been on unemployment for over 2 1/2 years, and have not been able to find work outside a few grant opportunities, and not for lack of trying. I wondered what he thought, looking at my small but beautiful home, my one car in the garage, my bird feeders.

It is interesting to me how some people quickly assume the worst about others. I have been guilty of that myself. He doesn't know how that person got a big screen tv, or more than one car. Besides that, does being on disability or unemployment mean you should look like you are poor (which you are)? Should I give away or sell all things that show I have worked most of my life simply because now I am on unemployment?

Why is there such animosity toward people on assistance? Is it some perverse form of jealousy? Here are the facts as I have experienced them. I was on disability once for an illness and was paid less than $800 a month. I had Medicare and no other assistance. Do the math. Would anyone in their right mind WANT to live on less than $800 a month? You can earn a little extra by working, but not much, and if you cross the magic line, they take away some of your money. You are disabled after all, you should live in poverty.

On unemployment, I am on a fixed income. My lifestyle (and expenses) are reflective of my previous salary. Why would I or anyone else want to take a reduction of 2/3 in their income to "freeload" off the government?

By the way, I have worked and paid taxes since I was 15 years old.

So next time you find yourself so bored that you have to make up stories in your head about others less fortunate and assume the worst about them, stop and think. Yes, there are people who take advantage of the system, that is true of rich people as much as poor (and maybe more so, think loopholes). But the majority are good people who need help and are doing the best they can. They, and that includes me, want to work, want to contribute to society. I challenge you to pretend you have no job (if you do have one). Go online and try to find work that pays you enough to maintain something close to the lifestyle you now enjoy. See what job seeking looks like in 2012. It is a very different world than just 10 years ago.

What is that saying, something about glass houses and stones?

Karma will find a way to give us the opportunity to walk in others shoes, whether we want to or not.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


My neighbor across the street, the son that takes care of his mother, told me today he spends most of his time alone. He said that sometimes he doesn't see anyone for several weeks, even months. Except for his mother, of course. Said he doesn't have many friends. He seemed sad and lonely.

My neighbor next door, the man who has some mental challenges due to a head injury suffered when he was a teenager, has told me on more than one occasion how lonely he is. He spends months alone. He talks to no one but me, usually across the fence. Or when he comes over to borrow three dollars for cigarettes. Other than that, his brother visits maybe once or twice a year, his sister, who lives just around the corner, never comes. He has no friends except for the twin white cats, named Kitty and Cat, who showed up on his doorstep a couple years ago. And me. He plays a mean electric guitar, bass, and drums. He says he wishes there was somebody he could play music with. So he puts on his sunglasses, sets up his drum kit outside on the lawn, and gives a concert to an imaginary audience. The show ends when the cops show up. "You didn't call the police on me, did you?" he will ask me.  "No, not me," I answer. He tears down his drums, defeated, and retreats to the darkness of his stark house with his two cats.

I have said on more than one occasion how lonesome I am. There have been times my phone didn't ring at all for over a week or more, that I neither saw nor heard from any friends or family. Times when I would go to the hardware store just to have a conversation with someone other than myself. They know my name and are always glad to see me. I don't feel so lonely there. Sometimes I would wonder how long it would take for someone to find my body if I fell over dead one day. My poor beagle.

The neighbor kitty-corner from me is a widow whose grouchy husband died about three years ago. She lives alone with her little dog. Sometimes she has family visit. Most times she is alone. She is a staunch Republican, but she still waves to me when I drive by. Sometimes I think about taking her a pie or cookies or something, but I never do.

The neighbors to the south of me are a Korean couple who I have spoken to only twice. They go to work and come home, very rarely going outside. Once in awhile his brother and sister-in-law stop by. Other than that they have no friends come to visit. They do not talk much to their neighbors. I imagine they might feel alone, too.

How strange.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Things that Remind Me of Home

1. Sparkling snowflakes on a cold, moonlit night.
2. The call of the house wren, Grandma Barton's favorite song.
3. Corn on the cob, fresh from the field.
4. Pan fried blue gills, morels, leeks and fiddlehead ferns, followed by a dish of homemade ice cream.
5. Salt water taffy, Mackinaw Island Fudge, Sea Shell City and the Mystery Spot.
6. The most beautiful lakes in the world.
7.  Pancake breakfasts with real maple syrup.
8.  The smell of aspen trees in the fall.
9.  Pasties.
10. Long-held traditions that give us black ash baskets, birch bark canoes, mukuks, wild rice, white fish, porcupine quill baskets, sweetgrass baskets, traditional songs, and so many more Anishinaabek gifts.
11.  Rivers and streams, big and small, fast and slow, warm and cold.
12.  The Mackinac Bridge.
13.  Cherry pie, cherry pop, cherries, cherries, cherries.
14.  Lake Michigan sunsets, Lake Superior storms.
15.  Birch and white pine trees.
16.  Sand dunes.
17.  Sleeping Bears.
18.  Bald Eagles.
19.  Wolves.
20.  Moose.
21.  Mushroom hunting.

There's no place like home. Michigan.

Death of a Family

Yesterday I took a trip to Ann Arbor with my Beloved to attend an outdoor antique show. It was a beautiful day, perfect weather for eating funnel cakes and sipping lemonade while looking at all the wonderful items from days gone by. We found some great treasures and came home happy. Happy until I saw the most horrible thing I have ever seen. There, on the side of the road, was a mother opossum that had been hit by a car. And scattered around her were her babies, no bigger than the size of hamsters. At least ten of them. All dead. I burst into tears and sobbed. I have seen some horrible things in my life, but this one hit me the hardest.

I wondered how many other people saw this and what their reactions were? Fortunately my Beloved did not. On the way to Ann Arbor, we also saw a mother deer and her fawn, dead on the side of the road. And a family of raccoons. And dozens of other animals, including two beautiful coyotes.  Did you know that more animals are killed by cars in one day in the U.S. than are killed by hunting and slaughter combined in a year? We are talking millions. And that does not include all the butterflies, bumbles bees, honeybees, dragonflies, and other insects that meet their end in the radiator grill or windshield. Those estimates are millions per day on one stretch of highway alone!

A friend of my sister's, who reads this blog, said that I was one of the 20% (as is she) of our population who are considered hypersensitive individuals. I would argue that I am not hypersensitive, the other 80% have become desensitized, and by claiming I (and the other folks in this category) am hypersensitive is part of their desensitized state.

When did we take the turn to find it acceptable to kill so many animals for no reason other than to drive fast down an asphalt or concrete stretch of road? When did we as a culture decide that millions of senseless deaths of animals (and people) was worth it as long as we saved time getting from point a to point b. If we rode horses, or rode in carriages, or rode bicycles, or walked, SLOWED DOWN, we could reduce these numbers to almost zero. Even driving at much slower speeds in cars could significantly reduce the number of deaths.

But as a society we don't care, at least not enough to do anything about it. I would challenge you to say a prayer, or at the very least, intentionally look for these animals that lay alone on the side of the road or in the middle of it. See if you have desensitized yourself to these deaths. My hunch is you will be shocked at what you find out. At least I hope so. I would hate to think we have gone so far from caring for our fellow creatures that this would not touch a heart.

I have changed my lifestyle and continue to do so in order to minimize the odds of taking the life of a fellow creature. I do this out of love. I love all My Relations - the animals, birds, fish, trees, plants, all of them. Deeply. So I do not drive at night unless I absolutely have to, which is almost never. I avoid driving during dusk and dawn when they are most active. I don't drive nearly as much as I used to. It has been a very long time since I have hit an animal. I attribute it to my changes.

I know that I can't change the world, or slow it down, or even expect that these words will touch a single soul. But I can hope that if even one person sends out a prayer, or slows down a bit, maybe one innocent life can be saved. And that is a start.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hooked on Everything and Going Mad

I am going mad. This madness is caused by my propensity to get hooked on everything. I don't mean hooked like addiction, I mean hooked like hooked. I walk in or out of my back door, and my blue jean jacket buttons or sleeve hooks on the door handle, whipping me backward and almost causing me to break my neck. Even the small loop on the potholder will latch on to something if I give it a chance. Perhaps it is the ghost of Captain Hook, after all I did play Peter Pan in my elementary school play. This is driving me crazy.

It is 6:30 in the morning and I have just finished vacuuming my small house. The vacuum cleaner, a popular canister model from Sears, got hung up at least 15 times. The chord, the hose, the attachment, the canister. The day hasn't even started and already my anxiety is shooting up the scale. It is all I can do to hold myself back from kicking the damn thing.

Even taking off my clothes evokes this queer thing. I will hook my t-shirt on my ponytail as I pull it over my head, which then causes me to hook my glasses. In frustration I rip off the shirt, and glasses and hair go flying. I then stand in front of the mirror, squinting at my reflection, disheveled hair, topless, mad. Not a pretty sight.

Yesterday I pulled my hammock out of the garage, a large woven cloth hammock with the usual strands of rope at the ends. And yes, it hooked on everything in the garage, knocked over the recycling, the cooler, and almost tripped me. Even setting it up caused a hook up with the apple tree branches.

I dread the thought of brushing my hair this morning, because I know when I pull the brush out of the wicker basket a half dozen hair ties will tag along for the ride. It will take one of those cloth scrunchies right along with it then promptly dump it in the toilet. I will bend down to pick the thing out of the water and whatever is in my shirt pocket will inevitably fall out and join the floating parade. Storming out of the bathroom, I will surely hook my t-shirt or something on the door handle.

Hence my madness. I am considering setting up house in the big field out back, where nothing, and I mean nothing, can hook me. Except perhaps the freedom of no walls. Then I'd really be in trouble.

Friday, May 18, 2012


The week I moved into the first home I ever owned was the same year my Grandmother had passed away. My life had forever changed and I was feeling lost and having a hard time getting things done. A friend from work graciously offered to come and help me finish painting and I accepted. She came over on the first night I was to stay at my new home, and the neighborhood welcomed my arrival with a police raid. I watched in horror as plainclothes cops, guns drawn, were hiding behind bushes and peeking around the corner of neighboring houses. Their target, the big tan house directly across the street. This I could not figure out, because as far as I knew, an old lady named Bev and an assortment of other people lived there. They didn't look like criminals, whatever criminals look like.

Bev later told me she had seen unmarked police cars checking out their house and knew something was up, so they had moved out a bunch of boxes and put them in storage before the inevitable bust happened. What was in those boxes she didn't say.

From what I can tell, Bev has several adult children and a couple of grandchildren living there. Her son takes care of her and is the busiest body I have ever seen. He is a kind caring soul who mows their yard, my yard, and several others in the neighborhood no charge. He shovels my snow, blows my leaves, and never asks a thing. I give him $20 bucks when I can spare it, and he is happy to have it.

I have heard many loud arguments coming from that house. The sisters that live there have no shame when it comes to letting the neighbors hear their quarreling. There is more coming and going than a McDonald's drive-through. The local animal control officer calls them "The Clan".

A few weeks ago the ambulance came. I watched as they took Bev away, with the two or three daughters scurrying around like ants, moving vehicles (there are always at least four or five in their driveway), packing bags for Bev, and finally racing off to the hospital. The son stayed behind. He doesn't get along well with the sisters.

While Bev was gone, something changed at that house. Messages appeared on the front windows, written with some new fangled, very colorful window markers. Messages like "Come home soon Grandma" and "Live Life with Love". "Smile".  There was a big heart drawn on the picture window.

Several days later Bev came home. She had suffered a minor stroke. It seems that this was a wake up call to the daughters, because they changed from doing nothing at the house to doting on her day in and day out. I watch as they walk their mother, one on each side, down the front porch stairs and slowly take her to their large grassy yard to sit in the sun. They polish her nails and brush her long gray hair. They no longer yell at each other.

The son stopped by a couple days after Bev came home. He told me how lost he felt while she was in the hospital. His routine of fixing her breakfast first thing in the morning, giving her a bath, making her lunch and dinner, and putting her to bed had been interrupted. He didn't know what to do without having his mother there to care for. I understood. I felt the same way when Grandma left me. Sometimes I still do.

Yesterday a new birdfeeder appeared in their yard. I imagine Bev sitting in her chair, looking out the window at her birds. And a wooden horse-drawn carriage now sits on the front porch. Everything looks cared for, loved.

No longer do I hear harsh angry words coming from that house. In their place are words of love. Three middle-aged people struggling to take care of a mother they may soon lose. Perhaps those words on the window, written by a young Granddaughter, had some magic in them. "Live Life With Love."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tales from Alaska - The Gray Jay and the Pork Chop

It must have been day 8 or so of a 10 day road trip to Alaska. We had stopped for lunch at a Provincial park somewhere in the Northwest Territory of Canada, and were cooking barbequed pork chops under a beautiful northern sky. As I plated the last chop, I noticed a gray jay feeding on the dead insects stuck in the grill of the van. A photo op if I ever saw one.

I put my delicious pork chop on my plate along with all the side fixings and set it down on the picnic table. Quickly grabbing my Pentax ME Super, I walked over toward the van, slowing as I got near. Using my zoom lens, I focused closely as the jay nibbled on an unfortunate dragonfly. Bug to bug the jay hopped, a smorgasbord of beetles, moths, butterflies, dragonflies, and other unknown mush. But there was something interesting about this jay. I swear I saw it looking at me in between hops.

All of a sudden, the jay flew faster than a jet over to the picnic table, grabbed my barbequed pork chop and flew off to the other side of the camp. It, and my delicious pork chop, landed in the dirt 20 feet away.  Of course I kept snapping pictures, and we watched the jay devour what was to be one of the best meals of the trip.

The distraction tactic used by the jay was nothing compared to the one that 15 foot alligator pulled off in the Okeefenokee Swamp. But that is a tale for another day.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tales from Edwardsburg - The Race Horse Ranch

Lately I have had a hankering for a hat. I guess I was first inspired from watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman reruns, she had the absolutely coolest hats. Of course I researched these fine crafted head coverings and found out they were custom made by a famous hat maker named Jack Kellogg at Hatman Jack's. Figures. But ever tenacious, I have been searching high and low for a hat like she wore to no avail. So yesterday on my way home, I stopped at Tom's Western Wear in Ovid to see if I could find my dream hat. After all, it was my Birth Day, so lady luck should be with me, right?

The minute I opened the door and stepped into that store, I instantly transformed from a newly hatched 54 year old to an innocent, spirited girl of 13. My eyes grew wide as they traveled from left to right around this very large shop, gazing at bridles and harnesses and shiny sterling silver belt buckles. I was in heaven.

"Can I help you?", asked the first of several western-wear attired clerks I encountered during my visit. "No, thanks, I am just browsing," I lied. I was there for a hat. MY hat. But I was a bit shy for some reason, so I feigned disinterest and continued my slow walk toward the hat department. It was when I entered the saddle room that I left my body and traveled back in time to Edwardsburg.

Down the street from our house was a race horse ranch, with over 250 acres of woods and fields, a track with two starting gates, three stables, a round swimming pool for training, and a tack room. I don't recall how I met the owner, Mr. Kling, but one summer I lived a dream.

Mr. Kling taught me how to feed and water the horses, clean the stalls, rub liniment on their legs and bandage them, put them on the walker, swim them, brush them down, and saddle and bridle them. But the best thing was I learned to drive a tractor. I could hitch up the manure spreader, back it into the barns, load it up, and then drive it out into the fields where I spread the wonderful smelling dung. I also learned to drag the racetrack, which made it as smooth as a baby's butt. All this and I was only 13 years old.

My friends Kim and Kay had a part Arabian/part Quarter horse, and sometimes we would go riding together at the ranch. Mr. Kling would let me take one of the stable horses, usually a pony horse (one used to lead the race horses). One day Kim and I went up to the race track. Mr. Kling always warned us to never put the horses in the starting gates. So we put the horses in the starting gates. "Go!" I shouted, and we were off. Both horses burst from the gates and ran full speed, hooves and sand flying, and two young girls having the thrill of their lives. Soon, however, that thrill turned into momentary terror as we lost control of the large animals. We were no longer racing each other, they were. It was then I learned why race horses wear blinders.

"Whoa, whoa, WHOA!" we yelled at the horses, holding on for dear life. As they made their way around the turn I was sure I would roll off the horse and into the weeds, but by some miracle I held on. After what seemed like eternity, the horses ran out of steam and began to slow down. When we finally got them stopped, we jumped off and took a few minutes to calm our wildly beating hearts. Wow. What a ride. That was a secret we never told Mr. Kling, although I am sure the next time he went out to train a horse on the track, the record of our race was well kept in the sand.

One day while I was hanging out in the tack room reading old issues of Quarter Horse Journal, Mr. Kling brought in a pair of well-worn brown cowboy boots. "Here," he said, handing me the boots. "For you." I took those boots home, shined them up right pretty, and put them on. My first pair of real cowboy boots. Of course they were several sizes too big but I didn't care. I put on two pairs of socks, pulled the boots on, and walked all the way back to the ranch, proudly strutting my shiny new boots.

Mr. Kling went out of town for a weekend and asked me if I would be in charge of the ranch while he was away. I was to feed, water, and walk the horses, clean the stalls, and keep an eye on things. He also instructed me to take the tractor and load the manure in the spreader, and take it out to the fields. Quite a bit of responsibility for such a young girl, but I eagerly accepted.

My first day taking care of the ranch in my brown cowboy boots was awesome. I backed the tractor into the barn with no problem and cleaned all the stalls, filling the manure spreader. It was when I got to the prize stallion's stall that the trouble began. This horse, named Right Turn, was not a happy horse. He was always kicking the stall and had a look in his eye that made me not trust him. As soon as I opened his stall door, he bolted and knocked me out of the way and ran out into the barn. "Oh shit" was all I could say. I ran and closed the barn door, and there we were. Me and him. It was show down time. I tried my best to get that damn horse back in the stall but he would have none of it. So after much cerebral ruminating, I figured the only thing I could do was put a bucket of oats in his stall and hope that his love of food was greater than his desire to bust out of the barn. It worked.

Mr. Kling came home from his trip and was very happy that I had taken such good care of the ranch. Everything was spic and span, the horses were well, the stalls were clean, I even cleaned up the tack room.  Mr. Kling took me down to the local diner and bought me a cup of coffee and a big piece of cherry pie. I sat there in my brown cowboy boots, sipping my black coffee and eating pie just like I was in Dodge City. I loved my life.

"Can I help you?" another western wear clad clerk asked, snapping me out of my daydream.  "You already have," I replied.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Love. One of the most beautiful and complicated human experiences. Just what is this mysterious emotion that wraps itself around our hearts?

Love is the most powerful healing medicine there is. It supports understanding, forgiveness, and compassion. Love can fill the Soul with the music of a thousand angels. It creates a feeling of inner peace and security, a deep sense of comfort. It also has big expectations. Love asks us to bring our best to others, and sometimes that means facing our fears and old hurts in order to realize that love.

Love is not just a feeling, it comes alive through action. I would propose that love is a verb rather than a noun. Without the act of loving one's self or another, does love really exist? Or is it simply a concept? It is a gift given, moving through me to you and then to another. I see it as a mist-filled cloud of beautiful, soft colors swirling in between all living things as it is given and received.

When I love someone, my gift to them is to help them fly, to reach their dreams. I want to support them as the travel their journey through life, clearing stones in the road when I can, or watching for traffic while they do the heavy lifting.  I gain strength in my own life from the love that flows from others into me. It is a circle, this thing called love.

I sometimes imagine a world where we all try to help each other from a place of love, instead of tearing each other down in our desperation. What a beautiful place that would be. I wonder if desperation is born from love not being able to get through the fear surrounding our hearts? I think we humans are very scared without love in our hearts. And then we become scarey.

The deepest love I have ever known exists for my Beloved Nahnie, my Family and close Friends, my beagle Tiny, and for all Beings in nature. This love has roots that travel into the depths of my Soul, and creates such energy that I feel an earthquake inside. This love moves me to make changes I never thought possible, to stand through fears, to care for myself, and to hold the rope for others while they are struggling and unable to walk with me. I am ever grateful for the gifts that these important Beings share with me through love.

So every day I will remind myself of the power of love and look for its beautiful swirling colors. I will let it fill my heart and Soul and move through me into everyone around me. I will be the change I wish to see.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

To Govern One's Self

When I was a kid we had a little red Rupp minibike. Sometimes my Mom would put on a helmet and ride it to the store to pick up a few things. I imagine that created quite a few chuckles, especially with the Harley riders.

We left the suburbs of Columbus and moved to a little burg in southwest Michigan, and it was there I could ride that mini bike down wooded trails and open fields. I would hop on the black vinyl seat and give her full throttle down our asphalt road, the wind blowing through my blonde hair. "BORN TO BE WILD!" I sang as I sped along. I was going all of 20 miles an hour.

Dad put a halt to my racing down the street by putting a governor on the throttle, restricting my speed. This was totally counter to who I am.

I have often wished that someone would devise a governor for my brain. Like that little mini bike, my thoughts and emotions race down the street, fueled by an idea or incident. My feelings are big. Perhaps that is what helps make me a poet and songwriter, such big feelings need an outlet. Or it drives me to be a philosopher, because I feel affected by life around me and need to tease it apart and understand it.

Whatever I do, I put out 110%. It has been said that our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses. I can see that very clearly in this personality trait of mine. These big feelings can inspire me to near Midwestern greatness or debilitate me to the point of barely holding on. The invisible filter that keeps us sane in a world surrounded by death and destruction does not seem to exist for me, or at least they used seconds when constructing mine. For instance, it seems most people drive by the 69 dead coyotes, deer, spring fawns, foxes, raccoon, opossums, cats, muskrats, weasels, and occasional pet dog laying on side of I-96 between Lansing and Ann Arbor and never even notice. Me? I pray for each one, and grieve for the needless loss of life. Seeing a family of raccoons taken out in one fell swoop affects me the rest of the day. I care deeply.

So as my birthday approaches, I may just call up my Dad and ask him if he might be able to build me a governor for my brain, so that I can be a bit more mediocre. I don't need to write any more songs or cry over dead animals or get enraged over Republican politics. Been there done that. I would like to just fade away lukewarm for a change.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Bee swarm #1 in my apple tree.

I went to the backdoor to let my beagle Tiny in, and I found him pressed against the door, looking quite unusual. "What's the matter little buddy?" I asked him. I opened the door and he quickly scooted inside and ran straight down the basement stairs to his favorite spot in the tool room. I glanced out toward my backyard and what did I see but a large swarm of bees in the apple tree! That explained everything.

Langstroth hive.
I started keeping bees in the mid-1990s but only for a year or so. The bees flew away, I sold the hive to an eccentric lady at my yard sale (she was going to make it a lawn decoration) and the bee suit to another odd duck. That ended my bee experience until three years ago, when a friend loaned me a Langstroth hive (those old fashioned boxes) and another built me a new top-bar style hive. I was back in business.

My first two colonies didn't make it through the winter, so I order two more packages of bees and they made the trip up from Georgia to their new homes last May. The gals did great, and this spring they still had honey left over in the hives. I was able to harvest a few pints and it was absolutely delicious.

Top Bar Hive.
Bee colonies as a whole reproduce by swarming. It usually happens in the spring, when queen cells are made by the worker bees in the hive. These cells are larger than the rest, and the larvae inside are fed royal jelly which makes them grow into new queens. The reigning queen sends out scout bees to find a good gathering spot, then she takes up to 60% of the bees in the hive with her and leaves home. She will fly to the scout-selected spot and all her followers will cluster around her into a tightly packed blob of bees. This is swarming.  Back in the hive, the first queen to hatch will seek out the remaining queens and kill them, thus ensuring her title to the throne. She will take a mating flight, then return and start laying eggs, building the bee colony back up again. It is nature's magnificent way of reproducing bee colonies.

Most traditional beekeepers manage their bees and try to prevent swarming in a variety of ways. I am a non-traditional beekeeper and I let the bees be bees and do what they do. I provide a home for them rather than raise them for honey production. If they want to share some of the nectar of the Goddesses with me I am good with that. But for me this is all about the bees. I am but a friend.

So on that day I had my first swarm. They clustered on the branch of my MacIntosh apple tree early in the morning, right when I was on my way to a meeting. I rescheduled of course and grabbed the ladder and some pruners and gathered up the Queen and her followers, placing them into a new hive. They stayed, bringing my total number of hives to three.

Temporary bohemian hive. Note cupboard door on top.
A week later, I went out in the backyard and stepped right smack into the middle of swarm number two! It was glorious to be surrounded by a cloud of buzzing bees!  This swarm landed higher up in the tree, so I had to call my Beloved to come and help me as I didn't want to fall off the extension ladder so precariously placed on the small branch.  This cluster went into a very bohemian looking hive that I cobbled together while a new top-bar hive was being constructed. Now I had four hives, my apiary had doubled!

But oh no, they weren't done yet. Two days later a secondary swarm appeared on the apple tree. I did not want to keep this group, as I live in the city and I have no idea what the laws are about keeping bees. I figured no one would complain about a hive or two, but five? That was pushing it I was sure. I put the word out that I had a colony of bees to give away, and received an email from a very nice gentleman who wanted to learn to keep bees. We made arrangements for him to come and get the secondary swarm the next morning.

I gave him a quick one hour lesson in what I knew about beekeeping, and sent him on his way with his very first bees. I couldn't help but remember the day I got my first colony, the fear mixed with the excitement. We talked several times that day as I wanted to check in and be sure he didn't have any troubles putting them in their new home. He had stopped at the beekeeping supply store and purchased his hive tool, bee hat and veil, and a book about beekeeping. I am sure he spent many hours that day just sitting and watching them with fascination and admiration. I loved being able to pass along this wonderful relationship of living with bees.

Just a few months ago I never would have imagined myself walking unprotected into a swarm of honey bees, let alone handling one. The sound of their buzzing wings and the potential pain of being stung filled me with fear and trepidation, a kind of primal warning instinct telling me to stay away. But it was only because I did not know them. They taught me that sometimes fear is simply in our minds, and that by getting to know the object of our fear we might see there really was nothing to be afraid of after all.

Coin of the ancient Ephesus.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Tales from Three Rivers - My Neighbor Kay

When I was in a rock band I had a very large and very loud Peavey amplifier. The power amp put out 400 watts of noise through a cabinet containing four 12" speakers, enough volume to make it suitable for playing in a stadium. So you can imagine how my neighbor Kay felt about me practicing my electric guitar or running my stereo this enormous sound machine and blasting Aerosmith through those large speakers. Kay lived across the hall from me in an old house that contained four apartments. The sounds in our apartments were hardly interrupted by the two wooden doors and stairwell that separated our living spaces.

Kay Mardis was a retired elementary school teacher, not an inch over 4' 8" tall if that. She had perfectly done hair, wore thick make up on her aged face, and spent most of her days sitting in her chair chain smoking and watching soap operas. Oh, and knocking on my door telling me to turn my music down.

At this apartment house, the only patch of grass suitable for having a picnic was located directly under Kay's kitchen window. One sunny afternoon some friends and I were grilling steaks and having a good time, when Kay yelled out her window for us to keep it down. I had not formally met this grumpy old woman yet, so I marched right up to her apartment door and knocked. I was greeted by a not-so-happy Elder.

"Hi, my name is Barb and I am sorry we are disturbing you. I wondered if you might like to come out and join us for our picnic and eat some steak?"

This was not what she was expecting. Her face softened and she graciously accepted my invitation. That was the beginning of our wonderful friendship.

I spent many afternoons sitting with Kay, listening to her tell stories of her life. I believe she was in her late 70s when I met her, and she had a rattling cough that came from years of smoking. It was this cough that eventually ended her life.

Kay told of a time when women were not allowed to smoke, and she and her girlfriend teachers would sneak upstairs and sit on a window ledge, puffing away and having the time of their lives. Her story was frequently interrupted by the cough, and she would have to put her red lipstick stained cigarette into the overflowing ashtray, cover her mouth and choke through another spell.

Every holiday, I would cook Kay a special dinner, usually turkey with all the trimmings. It was a ritual that I never missed. Kay had no family, she never found a special someone to spend her life with, had no children or siblings or nieces or nephews. The only folks in her life were me and two former cigarette smoking schoolteacher friends. She would open her wooden apartment door and a smile of pure joy would cover her face. I would carry the hot meal to her kitchen and she would dive in, eating very slowly and deliberating. I would also add a nice bouquet of flowers to the occasion, and I think Kay felt very special on those days. She should have, because she was one of a kind.

Over time, Kay's health began to deteriorate and she ended up in the hospital. That didn't deter my holiday dinner delivery, and all the other patients were green with envy when Kay's turkey dinner appeared one Thanksgiving day. She ate it slowly and deliberately, smiling all the while. It made my heart glad.

Kay didn't come home from the hospital. After several weeks, she was placed in a nursing home. I stopped going to see Kay, because I found it too hard to see her in such ill health. It made me sad, uncomfortable, scared. I didn't want to lose my friend. I didn't know what I would say to her. So I stayed away.

I sadly remember the day when one of the cigarette smoking school teachers knocked on my door, and told me that Kay had passed away. She said Kay had asked about me and wondered why I hadn't been by to see her. I felt horrible. Why had I been so selfish? I began to cry.

Her friends invited me to Kay's apartment one day and said that I could have anything I wanted, something to remember my friend by. I didn't feel like I deserved a thing. But they encouraged me on, so I selected a copper bracelet, an imported salt dish made in England, a milk glass lamp, and an old trunk. I took my treasures back to my apartment across the hall, and closed the door. I felt empty and sad, and diminished in some way by how I had abandoned my friend in her time of need. A very hard lesson for a 20 year old young woman.

Kay was a dear chain smoking old woman who taught me many things. But the most important lesson of all was how to be a friend.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dutchy and Me

If anyone would have told me in high school that my sister Diann would grow up to be one of my very best friends, I would have thought they smoked too much weed. Should our relationship have had a place in the year book, it would have be named "least likely to succeed".

Thank goodness we matured.

Let's go back to her first year. That would be 1960, when the Belgium Congo won independence and JFK was elected President of the United States of America. It was also the year Diann Lynn Barton, nicknamed Dutchy, was born.

I could not wait for my sister to arrive, and arrive she did. My Dad was a police officer then and my new sister came home with sirens blazing. Seems fitting - she still arrives with sirens blazing. This little bundle of fire came roaring into the world and she hasn't stopped yet.

Dutchy and me. A long time ago.
Growing up, our energies often clashed and we fought like cats and dogs. I have always been a pretty laid back kind of gal and Dutchy has always been a pretty excitable kind of gal, so you can imagine two teenage sisters crashing into each other at every turn.

But age has a way of making folks appreciate one another more, and I know that today this woman is one of the most important people in my life.

I wish everyone had someone in their life who believed in them 100% like I do. No matter what, Dutchy is there for me, cheering me on, helping me get through tough times, celebrating the good times, remembering the old times. And I am there for her. That is what sisters are all about.

One of the most special things about our relationship is our exploration of life's complexities and our shared interest in politics. We could talk for hours about the world's problems and have all the solutions. "Did you see Rachel Maddow last night?" I would ask. "Yes, those #$sholes!", Dutchy would spout.  "I know it!" "Can you believe those Republicans?" And on and on we go. "Ok, let's not watch any news for a week, alright?" I say. "We are getting too sour on life."  "Yeah, you're right", Dutch would say. She always says I am right. Even when I am not. She loves her big sister.

If ever I was asked who has the biggest heart in the world, I would vote for Diann. Never have I seen someone care so much for their friends, family, Unions, American made everything, and justice. She has blossomed as an intellectual, spending considerable time educating herself on the issues of the day. She doesn't just sop up whatever the media spouts to her, she researches things to find out the truth. Doesn't surprise me one bit. Diann was found to have the IQ of a genius when she was young. But she would never tell you that.

I consider myself one of the luckiest people on earth to be a sister to this incredible woman. She inspires me everyday of my life, and I can only hope to be like her when, and if, I ever grow up.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Little Sister

Little Kathee and me in the Smokey Mountains, circa early 1980s.

I am the oldest of three girls born into our family. I have two wonderful sisters and although we all fell from the same apple tree, one bite and you know you have a Granny Smith, a Northern Spy, and a Gala. What is similar is that we all have the same core (issues, that is). I suppose that is true for all siblings.

When we were young, I dutifully took on the role of big sister - bossing them around, playing practical jokes, ignoring them, doting on them, but always protecting them. It was my youngest sister Kathee that got the worst from me, although Diann would bet her first born that it was SHE who suffered the most.

Little Kathee was a happy child, always smiling with her bright brown eyes. I vividly remember her going through that stage when every sentence leaving her cute little mouth was "What's that?" "What's that?" What's THAT?"  She talked all the time and seemed to have an abundance of spit, thus penny-sized bubbles would appear as she babbled on. For awhile, Little Kathee was known as Bubbles.

I remember a time when Little Kathee was taking a bath. Enter big sister with a full box of Mr. Bubble. I poured the whole box in the tub and shut the sliding shower doors, just to see what would happen. Before long, blood curdling screams came racing out of the bathroom and swooshed out the front door into the neighborhood. I ran in and found the bubbles pouring over the top of the shower doors, with my little sister trapped inside a cloud of iridescent globes, crying and sputtering. Ok, not so funny.

Kathee's high school graduation, Edwardsburg, Michigan
Then there was the time she and I were down at my fort in the field behind our house. I had been practicing spear throwing and wanted to show off my new skill.  "Watch this!" I said, as I threw the sharp-pointed stick carefully aimed at a spot right between her two bare feet. "Aaaahhhhhhh!!!!!" she yelled, as the spear bounced off the top of her right foot.  Blood began to pour from the hole I had just created. I ran to my rustic bathroom under the pin cherry tree and grabbed a roll of toilet paper that was stuck on a broken branch.  "Here, press this onto your foot and hold it there!" I instructed. I picked my sister up, she holding the bloody toilet paper roll on her bleeding foot, and me struggling to carry her up the hill to our house. By the time we got to the backyard, the neighbors had heard her yelling and came running. "Did she get bit by a snake?" someone hollered, as everyone around believed the water snakes that lived in the swamp were actually poisonous cottonmouths. "Uh, no" I replied. "I speared her."

"YOU WHAAAAAAT?" my mother said. Little Kathee was whisked away to the local doc for stitches.  I felt real bad.

It didn't end there. Poor Kath. One of my favorite toys was my Creepy Crawlers kit. It had a square metal heating unit that held a metal mold which you filled with some unknown and probably toxic colorful substance. I would plug in the unit and watch the liquid turn into rubber worms, bugs, and troll heads. God that was cool.  Little Kathee didn't think so. She was scared to death of those worms. She should have kept that to herself. One night, I put a large number of Creepy Crawlers into Little Kathee's bed. I'll let your imagination do the rest...

Then, all of a sudden, we grew up.

My hero.
For most of our adult lives we have lived many miles apart, she in Texas and me in Michigan. I have not been able to watch over her like I did when she was so small. Not that I should, but that is the natural instinct of a big sister. Little Kathee has faced many challenges in life since then, challenges that no one should have to go through, yet she has faced every single one with honor and dignity. No matter what life deals her, she always looks for the bright side of things, caring for others in her life, reaching out a helping hand to those in need. As many women do, she is redefining herself as she approaches the wise age of 50, and she is an inspiration to all around her. I can't help it, but when I look into her bright brown eyes, I still see that cheerful, innocent little girl. I imagine I always will.

I am proud of my little sister and who she has become. And I attribute some of her resiliancy to the early training she received from her big sister all those years ago.