A rickety bridge

A slow sway pinches out a crying creak. It wavers and reverberates, motions in the belly as a slug of up and down. Yet there’s no whiff of breeze on a night where exposed roots choked by moss and lichen, and blades of grass tinged in dew sing in choral frets.

A stench of heavy fog squalls in as dense cumulonimbus clouds brimming in thunderstorms, lightning and intense, heavy rains, smothering everything two steps ahead. The way forward is only over worn, wooden slats of the narrow platform that vanishes into grey. Tattered, thin ropes tied to the platform and knotted for something to hold onto appear as mystical fraying fibres that float into that same invisible. Clutching them gives little confidence of their stability and peering into the nothing below that merges into the nothing above, spins that motion in the belly to groggy vertigo.

But in that empty unknown of underneath is a concealment that whispers magnitudinous esoteric breath. It’s there, somewhere, intentionally unseen but fused in super powers of nourishment and cherish.

Darkness becomes darker, a blackness of dull dread smothers the light of the moon. What it cannot do though, is hinder the fullness of energy from the orb of night that governs tides and emotion. It penetrates that dull of dread as the sun penetrates to suckle the earth.

Now to move, begin crossing these lopsided slats of old, no matter their dilapidated state or the huge holes in between. Move. There’s magic on the other side of the unknown. Trusting in that magic is imperative. One step forward, use the trembling to shift from a cement that’s cured beyond its use by date, beyond the malignant.

Such effort, such force needed when no force can be found. War drums hum stories of dire.

Breathe deep. Tune into those ropes and staunch buttresses standing quiet and resolute beneath. They’re there, powerful and strong as boulders rooted deep in love and care. Boulders of black and white … this is how it is. Boulders of nurture and coaching … you’ve got this, I’ve got you. Boulders stark with no qualms of question, all netted in silken thread studded in diamond particles.

A fibrous strand can sometimes loosen and the sway of the bridge swings to groans of pitching pain. Unicorns flounce and battle narwals in pristine points, ferrets flop up and down by the magic of a wand, round and round, tails curling over heads amongst schools of frenzy scattering at the circling of ominous danger, blurring all sight with a mass of silver-laced bubbles zapped by glints of moonlight … despairing gasps, desperate grasps … pushing through catches breath upon breath.

Breathe, draw from those stands of buttresses below when no sight can be seen.

Another breath. The bridge begins to steady. It’s now or never for that first heave of foot forward. Go. In shaking shimmy, the bridge steadies. The safety nets await amongst fairy flutters and flickers, regardless of how long or short the drop below might be.

A step forward and the tilt is greater than imagined, propels to clasp for ropes to stop from going over. Palms burn. Concentrated effort in the bracing for stability detracts from the alert needed of the gaping gaps. Sigh.

A glance behind to caressing fog, a sensuous tingle. The beginning’s obscured, gone. Silence blusters within the squeaks and groans. Moving forward is ominous and one foot steals the next step in quivering shiver without thinking or effort, without control. Dolphins battle lions battle sparrows on mass. There’s no turning back.

Knowing those quiet supports surround, even in the dreams of the gone, can prompt forward movement. Trust in the magic one cannot see or understand is all that can be and there comes a point where only doing will suffice and belief in the doing becomes the only way forward.

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. ~ Roald Dahl


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Finally Fall Coloration

Although I had admired a lovely large tree across our lake with yellow leaves for a couple of weeks, I kept wanting to see some reds and bright orange colors. Other trees in our yard and those across the fields were mostly still green. I remember when we used to be able to count on bright-hued leaves by the middle of October, and I noticed the last couple of years that was no longer true. I thought maybe it was just our region, and then I read that autumn coloration is arriving later elsewhere also. But finally a week ago, I looked out the kitchen patio door towards the lake to see the maple Gerald planted in the yard when we moved here, and it was at last a brilliant red. On beyond the maple was a Bradford pear tree Gerald planted that was now lovely with deep wine leaves. Rains and winds came, and the maple looks all snaggly now with half its red leaves on the ground, but it had brought me a proper measure of pleasure before that happened. I drove through that blinding rain to Katherine's one night; and driving home later after the rain stopped, the blacktop road glistened with red and orange fallen leaves shining in my headlights. Even better, a breeze would ever so often blow more leaves down to shower me with additional loveliness in my car lights.

Although the maple is worst for the wind's wear, the pear tree with its crown of wine leaves is still there to please my eyes. The trees in the woods across hills and meadows surrounding us have gradually turned from green to mostly brown. If we were able to walk under them, I expect there might be some brown leaves to shuffle through; but like our pear, these trees seem to be clinging onto their leaves for a bit longer. As much as I enjoy the coloration, I am also fond of the beauty of bare stark branches, which I've always associated with November. Maybe now with global warming, those bare branches will wait to decorate the sky until the latter part of November.

Our son-in-law finished his harvest over a week ago before that heavy rain came, and we are grateful for his good crops and a completed harvest. With memories of the fortunately rare years when weather made harvest impossible until after Thanksgiving or even Christmas, there is always a certain anxiety until the crops are in. Perhaps our worst year was the one when Gerald was still combining in late February after he had made a trip to northern Michigan to buy tracks for the combine. Horror stories of farmers' combines stuck in mad that year stick in our memories making an early harvest that much sweeter.

My summer was full of tests that mostly turned out good. (A false positive on a sonogram necessitated an angiogram, so I was grateful for that good report.) Now I am finally able to have time to start physical therapy tomorrow to improve my balance. One morning last summer I woke up to find that the arthritis and other problems in my right knee were joined by arthritis and tendinitis in my left foot, and that day I had to start using a cane to walk safely. Those pains have mostly subsided on their own, but I still need that cane when I am away from the house. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to walking better yet after physical therapy.

I also tire easily, and it has been necessary for me to realize that I cannot go to town and complete four or five errands in a half day as I have done all my life. Such adjustments do not come easy for me. Gerald helps me more than he ever needed to in the past when he was working 12 hour days or longer. I think his gardening is over for this year; we ate the last tomato from the fridge two days ago. I failed to wrap up any green ones in newspaper to use on Thanksgiving Day as I often have in the past. Yet now he is busy doing such things as replacing 16-year-old faucets or putting back up the large wire shelf in the garage, which I've used for a clothes line when clothes come out of the drier. (We learned there is a limit to how much weight that long wire shelf could take when he washed and dried a summer-full of shirts worn for only an hour or two, and I suggested hanging them there temporarily before they went back in the closet. When Gerald walked out the next morning, the shelf was down and the shirts were on the garage floor. So I have now taken off that wire shelf the antique shoe last that belonged to my father. Daddy used to have it secured on a stand in our basement in Jonesboro, and he sometimes put half soles on our shoes when they wore out. I like to think he inherited the last from his father, but I don't know that. It is small to fit inside the shoe, but very heavy since it is made of iron.  I like seeing it and holding it and thinking of my father, but I think it is probably time to give it to a local museum.)

Gerald received a phone call from his Union County friend Irma Dell Eudy Elkins telling him of yet another death of a high school classmate. I had a small grade school class, and five of my closest friends have been dead for a few years now. They did not live close enough to see them often, but I miss knowing they are out there with their minds holding many of the same memories I have. And I miss not hearing from them at Christmas--or at all. I do not consider death the end, but losing people from your life here on earth is a natural part of growing older. Frequent deaths are to be expected at our age just as leaves fall off trees as winter approaches. What happened in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, is not a normal or expected occurrence, and we Americans must determine to put an end to it. Such massacres are not occurring in Japan or European countries, and we have a responsibility to stop them here. I liked seeing a post from one of Katherine's friends down in Nashville. Her photo showed a handful of postal card messages to congress. That is a small action any of us could do.


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First Song









To that which moves, to that which moves, 

        Which penetrates the universal shine

        And shimmy, Roundabout, where other isn’t

Within, without, non-centric circle thing,

      All light that which in most the light begins

      Nor knows, nor can, who descant;

Because in drawing near to what is dear

      Our swallowy mind perspires and jealous folds

      Into itself where memory cannot go.

Truly whatever the realm holistic

     Powerful treasures, body and mind,

    Mind of which I thee sing.

Apollo, creed of the living

    Vessel me in thy talented power

     Bower of joy and sound!

One sum, it adds up to nought,

    For me for you for both

    Swim to the center and cry.

If you can imagine, you, and breathe

     In deepest drawing scent

    While I watch in awe and innocence.

Ten cents a dance, the best

  That I can do, shadow of the realm

  Stamped in my brain, blessed, so what.

Once there was a tree and a crown

  Underneath it all and nevertheless leaves,

  Which shall you choose, O!

So seldom, Father, so seldom, do we,

  But we try, we have to try and

  of human inspiration can we?

So back to the leaves and so forth,

  They fall all over the crown,

  Where is it I say? I say

But no one answers. Maybe better voices,

  better voices after me, after me.

  Alleluia. Please respond!


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1 Comment

Lamenting the Lost Art of Conversation

As luck would have it, I was going to spend last Saturday night in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I drove my daughter to the small town of Deming (about an hour west of there) where she could catch the Sunset Limited heading east to New Orleans. Rail travel in this country is designed to fail but those of us who choose to ride the rails make the best of it. That’s not the topic of this little essay, though I may touch on it again.

As my occasional readers might know, I am fond of old hotels and, if given the option, I will choose to stay in an older hotel in the middle of town than in a Holiday Inn Express or Motel 6 out by the interstate. I’m a preservationist and I encourage efforts to keep some of these classic places going. I was initially disappointed with Las Cruces because there didn’t seem to be any older hotels other than the palatial spa/country club. Finally, I saw a listing for a place called the Lundeen Inn of the Arts. Descriptions were murky, but it seemed to be a cross between an art gallery and an inn or a bed and breakfast. It was only for one night, so I chose to stay there.

I’ll save the full-dress description for another time. Just picture in your imagination a large, though semi-hidden, Spanish-Mediterranean house sitting back behind a courtyard wall and surrounded by large trees. Once inside, the walls were covered with paintings and I could see that the structure rambled off in all different directions and to various levels. The front desk was unattended – not a person in sight. I rang the bell about five times before a little girl, about seven years old, came down stairway. She went off to fetch her grandmother who arrived breathless but smiling from the back yard. This was Linda, the lady of the manor, so to speak.  We had a brief chat on where I was from and how my trip was going. As we talked she was deciding what room I should have. She decided on the Georgia O’Keeffe Room – upstairs at the end of the balcony overlooking the two-story great room and dining room. Georgia never slept there but the room displayed her paintings – or rather prints of her paintings.

Linda is about ninety years old and has lived in this house for fifty years. Her husband was a prominent local architect who purchased the property – two older houses back then – and re-worked them into this intriguing and somewhat convoluted inn. Linda’s husband died a couple years ago but she is carrying on with the help of her daughter who does most of the heavy lifting (but stays in the background). I’m the Vice-president of the New Mexico Architectural Foundation but was somehow unfamiliar with Mr. Lundeen or his work – so Linda filled me in. He was quite accomplished, was a colleague of Frank Lloyd Wright, and was responsible for several local buildings in Las Cruces as well as preservation work on some of the old churches or adobe structures in the area. Most of what one sees at the inn is his work – done by his hands – and it is impressive and obviously a labor of love.

We talked of architecture for some time and I learned that Linda was originally from Albuquerque and had a lot of stories about what was there fifty years ago and what has been lost over time. She still is upset over the loss of the 1902 Alvarado Hotel – a grand Harvey House establishment that served as the city’s train station. The hotel was demolished around 1970 and, frankly, I’m a little upset about it myself although I never got to see it. She and her school-girl friends would sneak the several blocks from the high school to “lunch” at the Alvarado and pretend that someday they would be of the proper society to travel and stay in grand hotels. Linda, an artist in her own right, had gallery shows in Paris so I suspect she made it.

Linda had work to do, and so she sent me off to Old Mesilla, the original Spanish community south of town to see the plaza and basilica church. There was an Indian market in the plaza and I ended up buying a hand-woven rug as well and stopped in at a little cantina for a beer and local color. Local color is not what it used to be since everyone has a cell phone to stare at. Linda’s husband had reworked a local adobe house into a fine restaurant on the Mesilla plaza – the Double Eagle – and she encouraged me to go in and see the place. It was my choice for supper and it was not disappointing in terms of food or architecture. The place was a little eclectic with crystal chandeliers hanging from Spanish colonial ceilings and a huge walnut bar. Like many old New Mexico adobe homes, the place is somewhat broken up and it reveals itself to you as you explore. There’s no “open concept” design in these old places so you must wander a little.

My night at the inn passed quietly. There were other guests at the inn although I didn’t meet them or even know they were there until morning. I’ve since seen online reports from other travelers that my room (mine and Georgia’s) was haunted. You couldn’t prove it by me. It was very comfortable, and I slept well. Some folks have wild imaginations.

I met the other guests the next morning. One gentleman was from Albuquerque and was there buying a small condo next door in an adjoining building (once part of the inn). There was a young writer from New York City who was in New Mexico to capture material for a writing project.  There was a retired English professor and his librarian wife from Alamogordo. He now is a volunteer park ranger at White Sands National Monument. Lastly there was me, endearingly eccentric as always, and also Linda, our hostess. We began talking around eight in the morning over coffee, continued through breakfast and on to about eleven o’clock when we realized that the day was passing us by. Linda had lots of stories about various celebrities who stayed at the inn…some good and some bad. A movie was filmed there some years ago and movie crews are notorious for not paying their bills. I can imagine the place being the setting for a novel.

Our young writer was enthralled with New Mexico, a common reaction. Her friends in New York think she will move here – she says no but I think she is hooked. She was not much of a morning person but came around after about a half hour. She has written screen plays but nothing we had heard of. Her parents came from Iran back in the days of the Shah’s regime and then couldn’t return home after the revolution.

The English professor is not a writer but has several ideas and notes for writing projects. He is mostly engaged in the park ranger work these days. He spoke of a French couple and their son who went on a hike through the White Sands desert a while back with only a small amount of water. The mother turned back but became disoriented. The rangers found the mother first and luckily checked her digital camera to learn that the father and the boy were also out in the dunes -- somewhere. The parents both died from the heat and dehydration in just a few hours, but the boy survived. The desert is beautiful but can be lethal at the same time. Our young writer friend was heading to White Sands that afternoon, so she was given advice and several water bottles. Our conversation went on like this touching on many subjects but avoiding others. I’ve not talked with people this long in recent months when the topic doesn’t stray to politics. Not this time – no politics and no religion, which are often entwined topics these days.

It was a very pleasant experience. It was a comfortable space with people who had no urgent schedule or agenda other than to enjoy the company and the morning’s conversation. The only other place where I’ve encountered this openness and social commitment to lengthy conversation has been on long-distance trains (I told you I’d be back to this, eventually). A passenger train is a community on wheels. No one with an urgent schedule would choose to travel by rail across the country so they are generally open to meeting new people and sharing in conversation, often for hours…or miles. That is a lost art in this country. We are controlled by technology or the calendar or the clock and are too self-absorbed to even have the inclination toward meeting strangers and getting to know them.

There are few venues left where this can happen. My daughter walked the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela a couple years ago and related the interesting transient friendships and conversations she had with other pilgrims. That harkens back to Chaucer and his pilgrims on the road to Canterbury. We really are social animals and need to get back to the idea that our fellow pilgrims have something interesting to say.


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Latest Comments

Ken Hartke Sofia's Bakery
20 May 2018
Thanks, Rosy, -- glad you liked it.
Ken Hartke I Promise
20 May 2018
I am so looking forward to your return -- I love your writing and wish you well. From my youth I've...
Stephen Evans I Promise
20 May 2018
Sometimes when I am dealing with deep anxiety I find that work (by which I mean writing), and the f...
Rosy Cole Sofia's Bakery
20 May 2018
I just love this, Ken. As appealing to the senses as a painting. Thanks :-)

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