Hiking the Holidays

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My son and his family wouldn’t be coming to visit until the 29th of December, so Christmas morning found me alone. Bummer, right?  Wrong! It turned out to be one of the most memorable Christmases ever. A Meetup hike had been scheduled for 9 a.m. but the starting point was a half hour from my home and outdoors the dense fog seemed like a warning to start early. Thick fog made visibility nearly impossible. I could barely discern a center stripe on the road I arrived a little before 9 at Fina Cafe on the Las Vegas Highway, a backroad heading north out of Santa Fe. Nobody else in the parking lot. After waiting five minutes, I called the hike leader to make sure I had the right meeting spot. “Oh,” she said. “It would have been muddy, so I cancelled in an email. In my concern about driving conditions, I had not checked email before leaving.

This neighborhood trail, nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, has become one of my favorite go-to destinations.

Instead of going home, I drove to the nearby Dorothy Stewart trailhead and did a solo hike. For the first time in my many years of walking that three-mile loop, I’d never been the only person in the parking lot. On the trail itself,I had the terrain to myself. Deciding to do a mental self-talk on gratitude, I began the undulating path at a brisk pace. Because Dorothy Stewart had come to Santa Fe in the 1920s, fallen in love with the city, especially outdoors, she’d donated land for public use. As I walked, I silently thanked her. Due to her generosity and foresight, a precious place had been saved from developers. Sweeping vistas all along the way, first of the Sandia Mountains, then the Jemez Mountains,and finally of Picacho Peak, Atalaya, and Sun and Moon Mountains. In my half-century of living here, I’d hiked them all and memories of those times came flooding back.

The day after Christmas, I walked the neighborhood through fresh-fallen snow, and on New Year’s Day, strolled the sandy arroyo. A special guest appearance in the back yard made history. Jake (pretty sure it’s the same fellow who’s been coming to my property for years) came in the morning and stayed till night. I’ve been taking a hint from my equine friend and when not out hiking have been relaxing with some wonderful books: The Magic Library and How to Stop Time by Matt Haig; This Tender Land by William Kent Kruger and The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer. In the year ahead, I’ll remember the Quiet Time of this Christmas.

Blue Monday or Serenity in San Diego

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The road going nowhere in particular

The road going nowhere in particular

 

“Wherever you go, you take yourself with you” goes the saying. After arriving for a short vacation in one of my favorite cities, San Diego, I was therefore not surprised that “Edgar” had brought himself along for the ride. He, or “it” if you prefer, had packed himself in the depths of my ginormous suitcase, amongst the slacks, tops, electronics, books, walking shoes and books. Egad, can’t I go anywhere to escape from that demon?
To understand Edgar, you need to know that I am a “recovering” adoptee. My original mother relinquished me when I was five. Even though I grew up with wonderful adoptive parents, I’ve struggled for years to come to terms with being adopted. I wish I could announce in a loud voice that I’ve succeeded in getting over my adoption issues. The best I can offer, however, is to say confidently that I am making progress.
This change of scene, however, has been more beneficial than weeks of therapy. San Diego’s magic begins to take effect the moment I arrive. The adjectives that come to mind: salubrious, sensational, scenic. Add to that another ingredient: simplicity. There is something quite wonderful about running away from home. Life can be pared down to an easier pace.
My host family (son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren) leaves for work and school every weekday at 7 a.m., so on this overcast late Autumn morning, I embark on a two-hour walk to a nearby coffee shop. I’ve been visiting this San Diego neighborhood for the better part of the last decade and traveling the same route, to the java cafe. First it was “It’s a Grind,” which went out of business. Then it became “Sweetest Buzz.” But this time, there is no coffee shop. Where the “Buzz” should have been loomed a completely empty retail space. A “For Lease” sign was taped on the window. A sad, empty storefront occupied the place I’d spent memorable hours composing on my laptop and sipping lattes.
Had the expedition fallen flat, or was there something else awaiting me? Instead of going home right away, I decide to check out the park near my host family’s house. Walking a couple miles back to the neighborhood, I sit and enjoy a serenade of songbirds, the ambiance of healthy young trees, a verdant carpet of green grass.
The park itself is a marvel. When I first saw it years ago, it looked unpromising, even hopeless. Today, the community outdoor space is filled with children swinging, sliding, digging in the sandbox. Parents visit with one another. Laughter from a toss ball game sounds across the field. An elderly man is marching along the sidewalk, stopping at each circuit workout to do pushups or pullups or a balance beam.
The day isn’t complete, however, until I take a hike on the nearby former dairy road. It’s a road I’ve walked before. One of the city’s many walking paths, it branches off from a busy thoroughfare and loops back into a small canyon. Thistle, purple flowers, and feathery plumed bushes brighten a brown and sage terrain. Ahead of me, a large bird, strutting in a quail-like fashion, walks across my path. Other than it, I am alone. The sun intensifies, but just in time a gentle breeze picks up.
Of course, being a grandmother/writer and retired from a regular career means that life should be simpler anyway. That’s not how it works, however. When I’m at home, a million projects shout out: “clean me,” “organize me,” “declutter me.” Right here, in sunny, wonderful San Diego, the only thing I have to declutter is my mind. Accepting victory, I acknowledge that I’ve once again I dueled the evil Edgar. On this gloriously sunny Monday, mine is the victory.

The author is reminded that "all who wander are not lost"

The author is reminded that “Not all who wander are lost”

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Love Across the Ocean

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Lt. Richard L. Beard in his WWII army uniform, before he became my Dad

Lt. Richard L. Beard in his WWII army uniform, before he became my Dad

D-Day is a time for remembering, and today’s post is a tribute to my adoptive Dad. Note: When I was five, my foster child status changed. I’ve been incredibly fortunate for someone who began life as an orphan. I was adopted by a college professor and his wife, literally going from rags to riches. One of the best legacies my Dad left me was a treasure trove of letters. Below, one of my favorites.

During the later years of WWII, my adoptive dad served in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater of operations as clinical psychologist at the 142nd General Hospital in Calcutta, India. Just when I think that the “Forgotten Front” has faded from public awareness, I meet someone who not only knows about WWII’s CBI arena but who is still honoring the memory of those who served in what General Vinegar Joe Stillwell called “a theater of uncommon misery.”
Yesterday I was making my way up a snowy slope to buy my lift ticket and enjoy a day of skiing. Leaving the ski area was an attractive couple in their 50s or so. They were not dressed to ski but seemed to be sightseeing. This was not so unusual, as many visitors to my hometown of Santa Fe like to come up to the ski basin just for a look around.
What was unusual was the CBI insignia on the man’s leather bomber jacket and the emblem on his armband. How often does one see honoring of the CBI, and of all places at the ski hill? I admired his jacket and

The CBI was known for the Ledo Road through Burma and the "Flying Tigers"

The CBI was known for the Ledo Road through Burma and the “Flying Tigers”

we talked briefly about “the forgotten front” and those who’d served there. He also had a relative, now deceased, who’d been stationed in that remote corner of the world. Thus the inspiration for today’s post, which is all about love across time and miles. Once again, I’m posting a letter from Lt. Richard Beard to his wife Reva written early in what would turn out to be an 18-month separation.

1944                                        At Sea
    Dearest Wife,
             This is written in commemoration of our 7th wedding anniversary, Reva, and will inadequately express my sincere happiness and good fortune in being married to you. I should prefer to look into your eyes for a moment and then kiss you to express those feelings; since that is impossible, will you accept this letter?
I was too moved to write on July 3rd, instead I sat for hours watching the waves slip past the stern of our ship. I ran over our wonderful experiences: I thought of our hard times and the troubles we have encountered; and then I reflected upon the almost perfect peace and comfort which is ours when we are together. How our eyes light, and how solicitous we are of one another’s welfare.
It is necessary, darling Reva, to refer to last summer and our second honeymoon. Perhaps six years of living with you had to fade into history before my love matured sufficiently to leave no vestige of doubt. You are my fate, dear, and I am content.
This war is but a passing shadow, Reva, in our lives. If it should prove more, and I am not to see you again, then if there is any eternity, forever you are engraved on my soul’s substance. But optimistically, I plan for the future, and I want you to do likewise. I hope that you will have a baby boy or girl waiting for me when I come home. If not then, together we shall secure the blessing of children in a family.
I love you, my girl wife, and each passing day confirms how engulfing my love is. Even now I look into your lovely face, and with blurred eyes, pledge to you again my everlasting devotion.

Your husband, Dick

My father inspired me to travel to and write about India, one of the many gifts he gave me.

Mom and Dad have been gone many Decembers below, but lately I’ve been thinking about them a lot.  I’m convinced that they adopted my brother and me mainly because of their deep love and devotion to one another. A powerful reminder. Whether they are formed in the traditional manner or forged from adoption, families make us who we are.
It’s really all about love.

The season of migration has begun By Roberta Parry

Bosque del Apache is one of my favorite places in the world. My friend Roberta has captured its essence.

 It is the season that thousands of birds, hundreds of species make their yearly return to El Bosque del Apache. Unfortunately, they will not find their winter haven as lush as in previous years, The drought has diminished the wetlands and dried the grasses, leaving their feeding and roosting grounds parched and colorless. I wrote this poem in honor of them in better times, with the hope now that those times are soon restored, for them and for us, 

                                                   MIGRATION
They arrive
     wings fluttering the air, cries piercing the sky,
     fleeing turbulent currents and threatening climes.
They land
     in flocks, find footing in fields and ponds
     hospitably prepared to receive them.
They mingle
     ducks feeding among geese next to cranes, 
     turkeys roosting above nesting pheasants.

The distant dark season passes,
     clouds clear to blue,
     winds calm and soften.
Some return
     to remembered regions
     that call back to former ways.
Others remain
     to produce new generations
     that know no other place as home.

May diversity continue to enrich our land.

A Turn for the Better

“Something will turn up”

Wilkins Micawber, a character in

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

In this strange not quite post-Pandemic time, it seems that I have spent an extraordinary amount of time waiting. Waiting for my son to get unstuck, waiting for publication news, waiting for the world to get better. But happily and at long last, finally something did turn up.

On the homefront, a paradigm shift has taken place. My oldest son had to live at home for two years. He moved back from living in South America, and all of his domestic job prospects were dashed because of Covid-related deaths. Last month, to his (and my) relief, he landed a teaching job in a nearby town and moved out. As the saying goes, he’s flown the coop. Though I miss him, it’s a far better situation than sharing a house. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.

Even more rewarding: I have new books scheduled for an early 2022 release. Pocol  Press plans to launch Hand of Ganesh in February and Pajarito Press will re-issue From Calcutta with Love: the World War II Letters of Richard and Reva Beard in the spring.

From Calcutta with Love comprises my late adoptive father’s daily letters to my adoptive mother interspersed with her missives back to him. Before they adopted me, Richard and Reva were separated by 6,000 miles and 18 months. The entire letter collection resides at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. The best of the letters are in the book. 

Hand of Ganesh is a work of fiction inspired by a trip I took to southern India in 2013: An adventure story starring two women – Clara Jordan and Arundati (Dottie) Benet. Here’s a sneak preview:

The story begins in the 1600s with Jonathan Dinegar Goldingham’s visit to the Shore Temple at Mahabalipurim in Tamil Nadu, India. Goldingham strolls along the beach and finds himself confronting a small Indian boy who is selling relics. He buys a stone that was part of the elephant god, Ganesh.

Generations pass and the hand of Ganesh ends up in the dusty attic of Miriam Benet, a wealthy Philadelphia dowager. Arundhati Benet, the woman who inherits the house from Aunt Miriam is the adopted daughter of Richard and Reva Benet. Richard Benet received the stone hand, plus a small fortune, from Professor Dinegar, the grandson of Goldingham and Benet’s former college professor.

When Dottie and her friend Clara are clearing out the attic as part of an estate settling, they find and keep the hand of Ganesh. The artifact will eventually lead them to take a trip to Southern India.Both are adoptees and both are passionately interested in learning more about their ancestry. It is also a story involving Hinduism and the deity Ganesh.

To learn more, tune in to a recent public radio interview by Carly Newfeld of Santa Fe Public RadioStation KSFR: The Last Word

Ruminations and Rumi

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I’d nearly forgotten that November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Instead, I’ve paid too much attention to the news. Are we out of the Covid Era? Will we ever be? Is our limbo state, when it comes to what’s safe and what isn’t,  a permanent condition? All we have, really is this day. Rumi’s poem “The Guest House” describes my emotions perfectly. If only I can be welcoming to all feelings, I will have accomplished a lot. After all, the adoptee’s journey is about being at home in ones own skin.

Although he wrote seven centuries ago, the Persian poet, theologian, and Sufi mystic Rumi provided insights that serve us well today. The “guests” are emotions and thoughts to which one awakens each morning. Rumi advises welcoming them all rather than disdaining some as unwelcome pests and others as “right” and correct. It is true that we enjoy those guests that empower, buoy us up, and make us feel successful, capable, happy. But as I’ve traveled the adoptee’s road to discovering who I really am, I’ve found that we need to accept all the feelings and learn to live with them.
The emotions that appear in our personal guest houses can, after all, serve as guides from beyond.

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
 Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
 some momentary awareness comes 
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
 Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house 
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
 He may be clearing you out 
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice. 
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes 
because each has been sent
 as a guide from beyond.– Jelaluddin Rumi

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*********************************************************************Join Elaine on Mondays for reflections on life through adoption-colored glasses.

Over the past season, I’ve seen this fawn grow into a doe. Her name is Emma, I decided. Her concerns stay within the confines of each day. A worthy goal.

A Lesson from the Trees

A Lesson from the Trees

Nature is an amazing teacher: After devastation and loss, rebirth and regeneration. In my life, this has proved true.

I live in a forested part of Northern New Mexico, an area where ongoing drought and thick forests make for extreme forest fire danger. My home in Santa Fe is near piñon forests and Rocky Mountain foothills. We’ve had dry times, periods when we had to have getaway bags packed in case of fire. Thankfully, so far the preparations have not been needed. But as the Southwest grows drier and hotter, we never know what the next season will bring.

Our neighboring town to the north, Los Alamos, has not been so lucky. Twenty-one years ago, the Cerro Grande forest fire destroyed over 40,000 acres, mostly in the Jemez Mountains. Four hundred homes burned to the ground. No lives were lost but damage was estimated at over a billion dollars. At the time, my late husband and I worked at Los Alamos National Lab and lived in both Santa Fe and Los Alamos. Bob’s house was spared, but I had friends who lost everything. One of them, a fellow bicyclist named Faye, lived at my Santa Fe home for six months while she got her life back together. Before the fire, Faye and I had been bike training. Despite the fire, we shared a bicycle adventure, doing RAGBAI, (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa). The New Mexico fires eventually quit burning, leaving charred hills and blackened tree trunks in their wake. Faye moved away to start a new life living near her sister.

The Jemez mountains were denuded, their contours charred and brown, like a giant Earth Person who’d been scalped. The lush piñon and ponderosa forests were gone. A scene of ashy devastation remained. Recently, a friend and I drove north to hike in the Valles Caldera area above Los Alamos. We spent the day exploring several trails. The tree remains stood like black toothpicks against the sky. In the years that had passed, new trees had self-planted. New Aspen trees were filling in. 

Four Autumns ago, I suffered a hiking injury that could have been the end. Instead it was the beginning. After a year of recovering from a spinal fracture, I got serious about finishing my novel-in-progress, Hand of Ganesh. I realized that I’d been spared from an untimely demise, and that it was time to “knuckle down.” Thanks to a temporary inability to do anything at all, I gained a new appreciation for simply being alive. Hand of Ganesh has been accepted by Pocol Press and will be published in 2022. New growth!

Aspen forest, the first to arrive after fire devastation.

Adopting Autumn

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Sometimes we grow so busy, we forget to enjoy the changing of seasons. Yesterday, as I walked the arroyo near my house, I received a wakeup call. Crisp air, trees nearly bare, dazzling blue sky. On the arroyo floor, a previous hiker had left a message in the sand. It spoke directly to me, a reminder to cherish Autumn.

To Autumn
John Keats

(1795-1821)

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease;
For Summer has o’erbrimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; 15
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook; 20
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day 25
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river-sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; 30
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

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Join Elaine on alternate Mondays for reflections on adoption and life. Your comments are invited. November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and submissions are being taken for guest blogs on all aspects of adoption. Length no more than 500 words, photos accepted, short bio needed. Send queries to elaine.coleman2013@gmail.com

Decades of diaries became my memoir, The Goodbye Baby-Adoptee Diaries

September ~ Such a beautiful month!

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In many ways, this is my favorite time of year. As in seasons past, I’ve been walking and hiking in the surrounding Rocky Mountain foothills, observing deer that roam through the backyard, harvesting apples. I am thinking about promotion for Hand of Ganesh, my newest novel. All good things, for which I’m thankful.

But as I write this, on 9/11, I’m reminded of the tragedy of two decades ago. This morning, the Santa Fe New Mexican published a dozen first hand accounts of New Mexican first-hand witnesses who were near the Twin Towers.

Santa Fean Noranik Zadeyan, then a graduate student at New York University, was walking to a dental appointment. Her downtown apartment was five blocks away from the twins towers. She recalls, “As soon as I stepped out, I felt panic all around me – people running, screaming, frantic. I looked around and thought there was a shooter or something, but then I saw peoples’ gazes were lifted to the sky. I followed the direction and saw the first tower was on fire. Then I heard a plane and saw it go directly into the second tower, and I felt in my being that what had just happened was not an accident.

I stood there in shock for a few moments, thinking about all the people in the towers, in the planes and down below. I saw all the papers flying from the office windows and I saw the poor, desperate man who jumped out of the building. I knew I had to get out of there because I felt like things were going to get worse.” Noranik made it to her dental appointment, but, she relates, “they checked me in, sat me in the chair and put on a bib and I finally snapped out of my trance and realized, what am I thinking, I can’t get my teeth cleaned right now.” She phoned a close friend who was living in Brooklyn and went to her house “for sanctuary and a “safe retreat from all the devastation.”

Barbara Gerber, also of Santa Fe, remembers that, as a friend was perishing in the north tower of the World Trade Center, she was emptying her dishwasher. A journalist, she was supposed to be writing a story on factory farming. She missed her deadline. She tells her story, relates watching Hurricane Ida tear through New York and then comments, “Perhaps it’s the way September feels brittle and expectant. Whatever it is, 9/11 memories have a life of their own.”

Hard to believe that twenty years have passed between then and now. I can’t say that I feel the world is safer. However, I can affirm that personally, I am enjoying a life filled with many blessings. My goal: stay within the confines of each day.

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Note from Elaine: Join me for monthly posts. If you have a 9/11 story you’d like to share, I will, after reviewing it, publish it as a blog post.

My Writing Life ~ From Fact to Fiction

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You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are. – Joss Whedon

It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only tolerable state is just having written.
Robert Hass

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I’ve enjoyed a lifetime of reading novels, and for the past decade, I’ve devoted my energy to writing them. A shift of focus, closer to my heart. Previously, my writing life had been devoted to nonfiction. As a young child, I recorded the events of each day in a diary (a habit that I’ve continued to this day!) For a decade, I made my living as a technical writer in the Information Services division of Los Alamos Laboratory. In the early 1980s, my love of hiking, running and bicycling resulted in the guidebook Santa Fe on Foot-Exploring the City Different. The fourth edition was published last year by Ocean Tree Books.
In 1991, another nonfiction book followed: The Santa Fe Trail by Bicycle, an account of my 1,000-mile bicycle journey from Santa Fe to New Franklin, Missouri. Fifteen of us cycled from Santa Fe to New Franklin, Missouri. We biked from dawn until afternoon, camping every night. My book began as newspaper articles. After each day of bicycling, I’d handwrite an account and fax it to The Albuquerque Journal. The quest for a fax machine took me to some unusual places. I’d bike around whatever town we’d camped near looking for a business that had a fax machine I could pay to use. The most offbeat fax machine location was an undertaker’s showroom, the friendliest was a bookstore.
Other nonfiction books came, one after another. From Calcutta with Love-The WWII Letters of Richard and Reva Beard; The Goodbye Baby-Adoptee Diaries. My true love, from adolescence forward, was fiction. At long last, I’m realizing that dream.
I began the journey into the world of fiction-writing with a WWII suspense novel Beast of Bengal. It was inspired by a comment my brother John made about our father Richard. After Daddy died, I asked John to send me all the letters from WWII that my parents exchanged. “He didn’t DO anything,” John grumpily replied. “Nobody will be interested in these letters.” My brother was dead wrong. People were very interested in the archived letters, and From Calcutta with Love sold out. Texas Tech University Press, the publisher, returned full rights to me, and the book is currently being considered for re-publication by Pajarito Press.
In 2017,Pocol Press published my second novel All the Wrong Places, a page-turner set in a fictitious Native American school. Teacher Clara Jordan has to run for her life when her duplicitous lover Henry DiMarco realizes she is aware of his criminal activities. Moreover, she must draw upon inner strength to help her students survive the ragged remains of the school year.
One book just leads to another. Clara Jordan, my heroine, has more to tell. In All the Wrong Places, she lost her best friend, broke up with a bad boyfriend, and learned that the birthmother she’d been seeking died in an accident.

In  Hand of Ganesh, my girl moves from Red Mesa, New Mexico to Santa Fe. She meets Arundhati “Dottie” Bennett, a fellow adoptee, and they become close friends. Clara decides to help Dottie search for her origins. To do the necessary sleuthing, the two women must travel to Southern India. A daunting challenge, but as I left Clara and Dot, they were plotting and scheming for a way. What happens next? Though I have a general idea, I’m waiting for my characters to guide me. Throughout the day, I write down ideas that pop up while I’m in the dentist’s chair, in the middle of a hike, in the shower – or sometimes when I’m officially “writing.” My job is to collect the ideas and show up at the computer every day. This showing up feels like what I should be doing. Writing fiction is what I’ve been working toward for decades. In answer to the question posed by poet Mary Oliver
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
My answer is to listen to my characters and do their bidding.

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Join adoptee Elaine Pinkerton on monthly Mondays for reflections on adoption and the writing life. Please email elaine.coleman2013@gmail.com if you’d like to propose a guest blog. Comments are welcome!

Author, Elaine Pinkerton, traveled to India to research her latest novel Hand of Ganesh