I was taking a break, listening to the wind in the cottonwoods and looking at the contrast of red cliffs and blue New Mexico sky, when I was drawn to the shape of the hat on the wooden table. So I stood above it and snapped this shot.
I have heard that the styles we favor as we hit early adulthood tend to stick with us. If so, this may explain why I still prefer long skirts. And I really like hats. This despite the fact that I tend to look like a mushroom in broad brimmed hats, my favorite. I have a great many hats of all types of brim and fabric, and they all have wonderful memories stitched into them.
It started when I was a little girl. My mom had a couple hat boxes with her favorites of the early 50"s that my sister and I were allowed to play with. I don't know anything about hats, so I don't know the technical name for the style (pillbox?), but I remember a couple with little veils you could pull down over your eyes (not sure why you want to do this, but it seemed to work for Doris Day, even Jackie Kennedy) and a couple that were layered with feathers and would just fit over the crown of your head. I liked the hat box, too, that wonderful round shape, full of mysterious things to wear, emblematic of my mother's mysterious youth---although I had some vague memories (or photos) of her wearing these hats.
Men used to wear hats everywhere, back in the day. My grandfather wore a fedora before I knew him. Then somewhere in the 40's he switched to Stetson, felt or straw. My other grandfather wore a Panama hat. Fine hats. My dad wore different uniform caps or hats. I was always puzzled by those uniform fabric hats that folded into flat rectangles and then were pulled out for a jaunty (but now odd-seeming) stand -up brimless hat.
Other than the aviator's cap with the goggles that I always loved (and made one for myself for a "Come As You Want to Be" party I attended in high school as Amelia Earhart) I prefer hats with brims.
In college it was de rigueur to have a leather hat--- to go with the moccasins and leather vests and fringed leather bag--- and I wish I had kept my hat, but it was really hot.
One Easter visiting friends in New York City, we all bought wide- brimmed black felt hats in Greenwich Village Saturday night, then walked in the Easter parade uptown the next morning, and a grand parade of hats that was.
Oh, the hats. My long time favorite is my River Hat. I bought it in Old Town Albuquerque just before my first trip rafting the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. I bought it for its tightly woven wide brim and leather chin tie, so I wouldn't lose it in the rapids. Plus it was like having a personal tree for shade. That hat did lots of rafting and shading over the years and while nicely worn, it shows no signs of wearing out. I spent hours doing a pastel drawing of it one afternoon in Colorado, lovingly attending to the curves and textures of it, remembering canyon wrens, good friends and wild rapids in a cold river.
The only downside of the River Hat is it is hard to fly with, so I have had a succession of packable straw hats for painting trips, et al. They have been hard to break in, though. A good hat can be hard to find.
So last August I was back in Albuquerque, with need of both shade and loose weave for painting in the desert around Abiquiu. I found the Stetson above. It was perfect for the job, its bright white straw quickly weathered by the red dust and a few touches of cerulean and yellow ochre.
Did you have a pet as a child that was important to you? What do you remember? What about your household now, is there an animal member?
Much in life is more mysterious than we take time to acknowledge. For example, this whole business of people and pets. Drawing from research by Johannes Odendaal, Rebecca Johnson and others, "America's Veterinarian" Marty Becker has written a fascinating article reviewing the benefits of animals to humans (see Missouri University Sinclair School of Nursing Journal for pdf).
Dr. Becker cites the following research findings about benefits domestic animals offer humans: stress reduction, lowered blood pressure, health benefits to elderly (e.g. reduction in doctor visits and medical complaints); enhancing the relaxation response; increasing exercise; reducing risk of allergies (surprise!); animal assisted therapies (AAT); hippotherapy for physical, developmental and emotional disorders; decreasing depression and loneliness; improving children's reading scores, empathy, and, possibly, IQ (!).
During human bonding, i.e. mothers and infants, certain hormones have been found to be present which produce pleasant feelings, calmness and sense of well being. These hormones include oxytocin. One of the most interesting findings is from Dr. Odendaal, at the Life Sciences Research Institute in South Africa, who found that petting and other positive interactions with pets not only produces those calming hormones in humans, but in the animals as well. In other words, the animals feel better too, in this reciprocal release of chemicals, even from just being in the room with humans.
Isn't this wonderful? And amazing? While whatever way it is that animals perceive love/attachment/connection remains a mystery, we know more now that we used to. Just as it
used to be controversial that animals have complex emotions, this new
knowledge has broad implications and brings considerable responsibility.
My cat Jack was like no other cat I'd ever had. Although to be fair to his predecessors, I had never before understood how much cats long for attachment with their humans. Jack's bonding efforts were straightforward and intense. An adult stray with years on the street, many wounds and an extremely bad rep in the neighborhood, Jack, when adopted, regressed immediately to kittenhood to begin a new attachment. He cried a lot and I couldn't always figure out his longings, but he stopped crying when I put him over my shoulder. So for several months I carried him, this 20 pound cat, everywhere I went in the house. Ever resourceful, Jack would not be left in another room, so as I slept, he slept with his chin resting in my outstretched hand. Very endearing. His actions of frequently checking my breathing in the night by sticking his nose to mine was less endearing.
After the strong unexpected, unlooked for infatuation, Jack worked hard to be the best cat he could be and to show his gratitude for being adopted. He never complained of late meals or boring food. He never made elimination errors or broke anything. He never scratched anything but the leather sofa, only when I was on the phone, which to his satisfaction trained me to have very short phone calls.
Though I tried to give him toys, Jack was embarrassed to be caught playing and would stop immediately if I walked in on him. His life had clearly been tough, but if made me sad that someone had denied him play.
Jack died long before I was ready for him to go and I will always miss him. But until recently, when I found the research, the mutuality of our bond was a mystery. How could a species so different from me feel so much for me? And I was a little embarrassed about how much I cared for him, how many stories I told about him, nearly as many as about my nieces and nephews. Jack taught me how to love a pet because he insisted on a relationship with me no matter what.
On his last day, Jack rallied and spent the day sitting in the threshold of the front door he never used, quietly looking into the light. It was only a few weeks after we nearly lost my mother. When I told her about Jack on the threshold, she smiled and cried a little, and I could see her holding this image close in her heart.
Some of us are embarrassed at how deeply we care for our animals, and so we tend to grieve their passing in secret, fearing being thought foolish in the face of human losses, even our own. But the truth is many of these animals love us back, in their animal way, it is not our imagination or anthropomorphizing. We recognize they are animals, not human. But their devotion is unconditional, persistent.
I remember the first time I saw this quote from Meister Eckhart, a 14th century mystic and minister,
"Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God. Every creature is a word of God. If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature, even a caterpillar, I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature."
As I finished reading this, my cat at the time, the remarkable Jenny Lou, walked in and looked up at me. I never saw her the same way afterwards. And in the end, Jenny Lou taught me how to grieve. But that is another story.
Years ago, when serving on the in-home communion team, we went to visit a wonderful elderly church member. She requested that we serve communion to her little dog as well. We found this request charming and eccentric and a tad awkward. But I understand it better now, of what it means to want invite a beloved companion to the Table of God and say "you belong, God loves you."
Do you ever long to make your mark? A sign, a signature, some kind of message that says with a flourish, “I was here! I did this! "
Have you ever made something, expressed a brilliant idea, shown your artistry in your vocation or other passionate pursuit and thought, “this is my legacy, this is what I leave behind, this shows I made a difference.” ?
15, 000 years ago, deep in a cave, filled with shadows broken by a small flickering light, a woman drew charcoal horses marked by large round dots. She loved to see these horses on the plains as the clan made its way to summer lodgings. The horse she drew is powerful, sacred because of what it provided the clan. We know very little about this artist. Was she a shaman in her clan? How did she find the cave? Why did she paint there in the dark? Was she alone? What we can see is that after she finished her art-making, she placed her hand on the cave wall and blew dark pigment around each finger to outline her hand, the artist’s hand. She made her mark on the damp limestone wall, for some unknown future visitor, to see and know of her life.
The cave was lost for millennia. Located in the southwest region of France known as the Lot, la Grotte du Pech Merle, with its drawings and intricate natural formations, was discovered again in 1922. It is one of the few remaining Paleolithic era caves where visitors still have access to the original paintings. Wandering through this beautiful limestone cave, I sometimes found myself within three feet of ancient markings. Lifting my eyes as I rounded a curved passageway, I actually gasped at the sight of the dotted horses. My eyes riveted on the outlined hands appearing above the horses, and I saw that the prints were about the size of my hands. I held my hand in the air in an echo of the gesture, as if I were about to paint a similar silhouette on the cave wall.
I thought of the woman who stood there millennia ago, and how, like me, she yearned to make her mark, to take note of this moment in time and her unique passage through it.
"I'm done with traditional medicine," my father announced at dinner. "There's nothing they can do for me."
As my father will soon be 87, it wasn't necessary to say that traditional medicine hasn't done too badly for him up to now. But I got his point. Because I knew that what he has been hearing directly and between the lines from doctors and others is, "what do you expect? You are 86." What my dad expects, however, is not to be satisfied with survival. What matters to him, and undoubtedly to most octogenarians, is quality of life. He is not asking to live forever, only that if it is possible to have more energy, be capable and independent and do those things that matter to him, that he be given encouragement and whatever aids that goal.
This skeptical attitude has evolved over time, partly, I suppose, because his doctors got younger and younger. And partly because his generation, raised to venerate experts and authority, realized that those experts were somebody's children, just like their own, whom they knew for a fact to be quite fallible.
Dad has long been interested in alternative medicine, done much research and tried things, a case study of one. He is pleased with what he has found, and recently he has learned something new he would like to try, "what if it would do as promised?" Once again he is proactive in reaching for his health and well-being. His mood for several days can be made by a good workout at the fitness center.
There's much to say about what I have learned from my father, a natural optimist, but this late life lesson is huge to me. He has ever been a man of action, no procrastination. He starts habits, stops habits, whatever he comes to decide is the best course of action. He shows up in his life, and has that trait of courage--- persistence--- in measures I long for. Is he at all set in his ways? Sure, just try cutting an onion or tomato in front of him, or taking out the garbage. He has many instructions. But this openness to the new, and the willingness to dig for information even if initially skeptical, is an example I value.
One of the first things he taught me was "never assume." This was learned the hard way, trying to excuse my way out of faulty judgments or actions. But, ah, yes, "never assume." Find out, know your stuff, take the time to be thorough, and take responsibility, it's your life. Trust yourself, take a leap, there's always something to be learned.
I expect I will give my doctors a hard time, too, if they try to get me to "settle." It's my father's legacy to me.
How long have you lived where you are? Ever get restless, think of moving on?
Fort Worth, Texas is famously known as "where the west begins" --although I do not believe it is the only town claiming this. Perhaps not even the only town in Texas claiming this. But Fort Worth has a legitimate claim due to the still popular Stockyards, the destination for many cattle drives of the post- Civil War period. I don't think many wranglers shouted it but "meat for the east" was the purpose as cattle were shipped on trains from the Stockyards.
The first time I saw Fort Worth, I felt I was for sure in the plains, and missed the Hill Country of Austin terribly. In fact, Fort Worth is geographically between the plains of West Texas and the broadleaved forest that marches west out of the Piney Woods of East Texas. My geography facts are nebulous, but that's the general idea. Anyway, most folk who have never been here, if asked to conjure the place, will likely think of the dusty trails of Lonesome Dove, or maybe of the flat empty landscapes of "Giant". But that really isn't the truth of Fort Worth, despite the accurate reputation of triple digit summers.
For example, did you know that Fort Worth is second only to Chicago in dedicated park areas?
The other thing, why some visitors call Fort Worth "a well- kept secret", is the amazing cultural district, with museums and events that have made the city an arts destination rivaling the coasts.
You know how when you first go to a place, you do everything, jump into the scene? You do things every year, like Shakespeare in the Park, or Main Street Art Fest, or Mayfest, or go the popular clubs. But times change and you change and trends come and go, and after a while, if you're like me, the activities and places you go slowly narrow to a few, and after a while it seems you live in a small kinda boring city.
I began to yearn for new vistas and decided to move. Since I knew that would take a while to put into place, I decided to spend my last year or so making the most of where I was living. Along the way I found delightful opportunities for my current interests, indoors and out. I began to explore and appreciate aspects of the area I had ignored/forgotten about for some years---and discover those that are fairly new on the scene, which is changing as fast as a place can, truth be told. What a revelation! There's so much to choose from.
I lost my interest in moving away as I became ever more appreciative and engaged.
What's going on in your hometown right now that you haven't explored? What's grown and changed and might need your participation to succeed? Where can you see something new or take a class or join a group of people working to improve the community? Where can you walk or ride and find out what the light is like in the evening, or what birds sing in the mornings?
Thinking of those dusty trails? Try on these local Fort Worth sights and see how they match up with your images.