Ken Hartke

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I'm retired and living solo "out west" in the New Mexico desert. I've been an observer and blogger for years and usually have four or five blogs going but wrote for myself or for friends. A lot of it was travel stories or daily random postings -- but it was a good experience. Red Room allowed me to share things on a wider scale and with its demise, I (maybe) found a more public voice.

The Wind Takes No Prisoners

I"m getting ready for a long road trip -- heading east along the old Santa Fe Trail. Eastward, a thousand miles across Dorothy's Kansas with the wind at my back. Yesterday it was blowing at about 40 mph so today's 25 mph feels like a reprieve but it is still gusting. There is a blizzard warning posted for areas north of where I'm travelling and it should be played out by the time I get out on the high plains.  At least I hope so.

I'm heading "home" in a sense, to the Midwest. The big river valleys and the centerlands between the four compass points still carry a sense of place and personal history for me even though I cannot live there any more. I'm a full-fledged bird of the desert but I still need these occasional migratory excursions. My home place is now in the New Mexico desert in view of five mountain ranges and starry skies. ...But that doesn't mean that I don't miss my roots. I can only eat so much green or red chile pepper sauce before I need some kind of comfort food of the Midwest. I'm planning on hauling back a treasure trove of St. Louis food -- if I don't eat it all on the road back.

We can complain about the wind and the blowing dust or snow but there is no recourse. No court of appeals. There were twenty-four severe weather warnings posted for New Mexico yesterday for high winds, blowing dust and extreme fire danger. If a fire gets started in the dry grass it will cover fifty miles before anyone can even try to stop it.

I'm thinking about those hearty pioneers and muleskinners who struck out toward the horizon with the incredible wind blowing them raw.  They had huge, unwieldy cargo wagons laden with supplies and material for sale in Santa Fe. The deep wagon ruts are still there in many places in central Kansas. Santa Fe was a foreign country but it was closer to Missouri than it was to Mexico City so the trail wagons were tolerated at first and then welcomed.  One of my wife's ancestors made the trip at least once. There is a large 100 foot sandstone rock part way across Kansas -- known as Pawnee Rock. It was one of many important trail landmarks and described as the "The greatest sight ever beheld by man".  If you have been watching the hind-end of a team of mules or oxen for three-hundred miles, it was a welcome diversion. 

I will have a better view -- no mules or oxen -- but the wind will give me a little push from behind. I think I probably shared the following poem once before. It gives an idea of the power of the wind on the land and people born to it.

So now comes the wind.
Our winter’s downhill neighbor
testing the hinges.

From beyond, somewhere
in a distant mountain place,
it comes to life.

It finds its power.
it scours the dead and dying;
it tries to take you.

But you bow your head.
You divert your reddened eyes.
It passes over.

A born acrobat,
Tumbleweed pulls up her skirts
and scatters her seeds.

It takes what it wants,
leaving man and beast behind
tumbling into Spring.

Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
I love your piece, Ken. Your writing made me feel as though I were there.
Sunday, 14 April 2019 16:28
Stephen Evans
A fascinating part of the country - enjoy your trip!
Thursday, 18 April 2019 02:38
Ken Hartke
It has been a good trip. I will be back home in three days -- probably close to 3,000 miles from the start. I have one more histor... Read More
Thursday, 25 April 2019 06:07
1643 Hits

Found Objects

I found myself walking along the sea.
We are all part sea water and perhaps
I'm on a pilgrimage to the call of the tides.


Living so far away from the ocean, the
beach is unfamiliar and holds secrets.
The water is cold. The sand is soft.



Landlocked, I see the beach and the ocean
with different eyes. I lock away the smallest details.
It could be years before I return -- or never.



That's probably me with my head looking down.
That’s how I walk on a beach. Or I scan the horizon.
I see a few others my age doing much the same.


The gulls call out. They gather and squabble.
The shorebirds taunt the spent waves.
A lone jogger passes by without a word.


This sand is decorated with polished stones.
Washed by each gentle wave, they shine
and leave patterns from the receding flow.



Sand Dollars are plentiful -- maybe half dollars.
They are small and lie flat, awaiting discovery
among the rivulets and tracks in the sand.



I find things that others may not see.
And once again, on this brisk December day,
I found myself walking along the sea.



* * *


Recent Comments
Monika Schott
Sunday, 23 December 2018 21:56
Ken Hartke
Glad you liked it. Thanks for stoppingby...
Monday, 24 December 2018 04:35
Rosy Cole
This is so lovely, Ken. The concept of 'mindfulness' is hackneyed nowadays, but this is truly what Life is about, what makes it wo... Read More
Monday, 31 December 2018 13:34
818 Hits

Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead?


Burn scars are hard to erase. They leave
lasting evidence of trauma and despair.
And yet -- I can't stop looking at them.
When will they heal?  Will I ever see it?


How many years have I watched and waited?
Is there a flicker of hope?  Fire destroys.
In the forest, fire also brings rebirth.
It just takes so long.


There's a spark of life here. There's some color over there.
The Pines are gone but the Aspens know what to do.
They are survivors with roots that protect the future.
Fire is what they were waiting for.



Why seek ye the living among the dead? But they never died.
I'm compelled -- season after season -- to seek the living.
The wounds are healing but it's not the same as before.
But there are some rewards for those who wait.


The Elk are back and know that the forest will return.
It may be stronger than before if given a little time.
On Autumn days it is a sight to behold.
Especially on this cold, cloudy day sputtering snow.


Burn scars are hard to erase.
The Jemez Mountains show muscle and bone
beneath the scar of the old forest. Now a new
and beautiful skin brings life among the dead.


The Home Place — 2018



Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
Spare and beautiful, Ken.
Saturday, 20 October 2018 00:32
Ken Hartke
Thanks -- we've had so many fires these last few years. I hope this rebirth is happening elsewhere, too.
Monday, 22 October 2018 16:06
Rosy Cole
Fabulous post, Ken! So vivid! Always good to remember that destruction never has the last word. I'll tell you a secret... It was... Read More
Monday, 12 November 2018 18:09
772 Hits


I'm always amazed at those slabs of ancient

tree trunks that show how time passes.

A seed fell and sprouted and took root.

Maybe in 1492 or 1215.

There was a drought. There was a fire.

There were good years and bad.


My ancient Juniper tree lives on at the back

of a my mostly unused piece of land.

Its age gives it a certain distinction.

How old can it be?

I named the tree Carlos Rey for it was surely

once the property of the King of Spain.


These trees grow slowly in the high desert.

They experience things that we never notice.

Once they get a good start, a toehold, they

can go on for centuries.

Carlos Rey was twig when Coronado and

the Franciscans camped just down the hill.


Other trees nearby show old jagged scars;

ax marks where a shepherd or soldier

stole a branch for firewood or shelter.

Even the scars are ancient.

Carlos Rey went unnoticed and unscathed.

Endurance and survival are the keys.


Carlos has seen good years and bad years.

I think we must be in what will be known

as bad years when some future scientist

ponders our age - our rings.

I see no small Junipers - only ancient ones.

The climate seems angry and uncooperative.


Life is precious. It has a memory to share.

There's a man in Sussex who counts the rings

of a Stradavari or a Montagnana or

a Matteo Groffiller.

With years of practice, and in the right hands,

the old tree rings sing with the voice of angels.



Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
You are so lucky to have such a venerable neighbor! I would love to make a tour someday of ancient trees.
Saturday, 28 July 2018 20:22
Ken Hartke
Sadly, people don't realize how old some of these trees are and just bulldoze their lots clean when they decide to build. The tree... Read More
Sunday, 29 July 2018 00:12
Rosy Cole
This is something I ponder a lot on my dog walks. Trees are inspiring. They are companions. They somehow convey a knowledge beyond... Read More
Sunday, 29 July 2018 17:08
780 Hits

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